Theatrical review: Shank

Wanna be in my gang?

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Certificate: 15
Director: Mo Ali
Screenwriters: Paul Van Carter
Cast: Kedar Williams-Stirling, Adam Deacon, Jan Uddin
Distributor: Revolver
Running Time: 93 mins

David Cameron wants us all to hug a hoody but even he would think twice about hugging the lot in Shank, the debut feature from director Mo Ali. London, 2015, abject poverty and, most importantly, a lack of food, or ‘munchies’ as it’s called, has led to social unrest on a level not seen since The Warriors. Hoody wearing youths roam the streets robbing food, or anything they can get their hands on to trade for sustenance. Turf, or ‘post code’ wars, leave many bloodied or worse, except for The Paper Chaserz – Junior (Williams-Stirling), Kickz (Deacon), Rager (Thomas) Sweet Boy (Uddin) and Craze (Socha) – whose ‘No Killing’ policy stands them at odds with everyone else. But when gangleader Rager is murdered by upstart, opposition number Tugz (Holder), little brother Junior sets upon a course of ‘an eye for an eye’, his thirst for revenge forcing him to challenge his strict code of honour.

Only five years hence, Shank’s London is a segregated cesspit of filth and squalor where “the slums stick to the slums, the riches to their safe zones”. Ali has limited budget at his disposal but succeeds in constructing a vile and repugnant vision of the capital that, as with all convincing dystopias, is a recognisable vision of the city from where it stands today. All crash cuts, quick edits and frenzied framing, Ali instils Shank with an MTV aesthetic – animated sequences, a videogame bike chase, a pitbull fight presented through energy bars and a final ‘KO’ screenflash – that matches the ‘fight or flight’ unpredictability of its setting. It also has a strong moral compass itself, challenging the ‘eye for an eye’ retaliation associated with street violence and the assumption that poverty leads carte blanche to a life of crime. Yet despite all of these good efforts, it’s guilty of the cardinal cinematic sin – style over substance.

More a feature-length music video than a serious social commentary, Shank’s plot is no more than a simple revenge set-up, dialogue is laden and characters one-note and defined by single traits: Kickz likes his trainers, Craze likes his dog and Sweet Boy likes, well, anything in a skirt. The tone, too, fluctuates wildly from realistic and stark, oppressive passages with junkies shitting in the street to trash-mouth driven comedy and, even, an oddly judged musical segment. Sadly, all of the director’s worthy intentions never fully crystallise into a particularly compelling or engaging film.

Despite its commendable intent and anti-violence stance, Shank amounts to little more than a 90-minute promotional video.