With its ‘Sweeney Todd in a kebab shop’ pitch, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dan Pringle’s feature debut would be a knockabout, gross-out horror comedy. While there is plenty of human flesh being ground up and served in Styrofoam containers, and more than a few dark chuckles, K-Shop plays things relatively straight, delivering an unexpectedly grounded and relevant psychological thriller.
Sociology student Salah (Ziad Abaza) is helping out at his ailing dad’s Bournemouth kebab shop. When his father dies in an altercation with some aggressive drunk customers, Salah takes over the business and confronts a never-ending stream of pissed-up, abusive and frequently bigoted diners.
When one of these hungry people accidentally ends up with their head in the deep fat fryer, Salah hits upon an idea.
Sweeney Todd may be the inspiration for the concept, but Pringle is clearly more influenced by vigilante movies like Taxi Driver and Death Wish. Although there’s some B-movie fun to be had in seeing abusive racists being turned into doner meat and obnoxious bastards fed the result, K-Shop doesn’t settle into such a simplistic ‘You are what you eat’ narrative.
Instead, the film works hard to avoid becoming simplistic, and instead make us question our sympathies. Shortly after Salah begins his new cooking programme, questions are raised about the boozy culture that profits from people getting out of their minds every weekend, while our protagonist’s treatment of his victims shows that dehumanisation is an easy trap to fall into. Anchoring all of this is a superb performance from Abaza, who has to walk a very fine line, and does so with great confidence and skill.
While it is too long at 115 minutes, and at least one of the subplots is unnecessary, Pringle’s careful approach means that a lot of the more ambitious social commentary works: the abuse that Salah is confronted with does feel very relevant in our country’s current situation, as do the scenes of drunken violence. This is a very promising debut.