Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Anti-'Wrecked': "Shank" (2009)

It's ironic that I screened the films "Wrecked" and "Shank" back to back. "Wrecked" was a terrible mess involving gay teens whose lives unravel thanks to casual sex and drug abuse. "Shank" also involves gay teens, casual sex, and drug abuse, but director Simon Pearce and screenwriters Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin gave me characters I came to care about while telling a compelling story.

Cal (Wayne Virgo) is a thug in Bristol, United Kingdom. He hangs out with best mate Jonno (Tom Bott) and gang leaderette Nessa (Alice Payne). The group vandalize, deal drugs, listen to rap, and beat up gays. What no one knows is that Cal himself is gay, a self-loathing mental mess. In the film's opening scenes, he sets up a casual sex date with Scott (Garry Summers), and head butts him when he is finished. Cal is attracted to Jonno, and the feeling may or may not be reciprocated.

Scott is a school professor, and one of his students is a gay French teen named Olivier (Marc Laurent). Olivier is accosted and beaten by Nessa and Jonno, but Cal stops them, and befriends Olivier. As Cal hides from his now vindictive former friends, Olivier tries to show him that being who you are is the key to a happy life. Unfortunately, the gang eventually catches up to the couple.

Flaxstone and Martin seem to have been inspired by all those films that bring seemingly unrelated subplots together for a dramatic finale. The fact is, it still works here with just a hint of melodramatic coincidence. The middle of the story lags a bit, but Simon Pearce's direction is top notch. The film is very low-budget, the sex in the unrated DVD edition is very explicit, but it's amazing how unlike "Wrecked" this is. Pearce seems to be following the script (no uncomfortable improv noticed), and the editing is great. The musical score is heavy with rap, a genre I wish would go away, but this is the music of these hoods, and it works.

The cast is all good. Laurent really is French, so his hesitant English is appropriate. Virgo as Cal is excellent. His self-loathing is believable, but Pearce doesn't let him change overnight once he finds Olivier. Bott, Payne, and especially Summers all score in their scenes, each is given a chance to shine as they explore their characters' respective mental anguish.

"Shank" popped up as a recommendation when I rented "Wrecked," and while the films share some similarities, "Shank" shines. (* * * *) out of five stars.