Dir: Helen Walsh
There isn’t a lot of sunshine in grim Brit-flick The Violators. Fifteen year old Shelly lives in a run-down estate with her perpetually wasted older brother Andy, and their younger sibling Jerome. They all have different mothers, none of whom are still around. Their abusive father is in prison. Shelly spends much of her time dodging the advances of skeevy dirtbags like middle-aged Mikey Finnegan, a local loan shark. Unfortunate circumstances forces Shelly and her small family to become ever reliant on Mikey’s ‘generosity’, which comes with a high price.
A wild card is thrown into the mix in the form of Rachel, a bored posh girl who takes an interest in Shelly. Rachel’s presence shakes the film up considerably. There is something inscrutable about her, elevating what could have been an average kitchen-sink drama into something more compelling. Her motives are suspicious from the start. At times it seems she has a crush on Shelly, at other times she appears to be using Shelly for some unknown end. Being used is something that Shelly has experience with.
The Violators can be a grueling watch. There are scenes between young Shelly and Mikey Finnegan that are harrowing to watch. The world Shelly lives in is a violent one. When Rachel enters the frame, the stark difference between them in terms of social class is evident. Despite that, there is a bond between them; the damage that men like Finnegan can do.
This film feels like it should come with a trigger warning attached, but the darkness is offset by the fine performances of the two girls, newcomers Lauren McQueen and Brogan Ellis. Stephen Lord gives Finnegan a suitably creepy edge, something of a thankless task. Author Helen Walsh makes a confident debut as a director. It’s a hard film to love, thanks to the grimness of the setting and plot, but it’s worthy of praise nonetheless.