Directed by Dan Pringle
Look, who doesn’t like a kebab at 2 AM? I’m sure you know the feeling – you’re merry, you’ve had a few and you want to soak it up. And, for some reason, thin strips of fatty meat thrown in some bread and smothered in hot sauce is the only thing that’ll do. Bon Appetit and have a safe trip home! Though if you live in the nightmare Bournemouth of Dan Pringle’s feature debut, you’d be best getting a taxi.
Yes, the streets are getting rougher. But at the same time, the meat freezer’s getting emptier. Fortunately, one young shop assistant finds a somewhat creative solution. You are what you eat – so goes the premise of this modern tale Sweeney Todd. And, in this case, it’s unimaginatively written working class stereotypes eating unimaginatively written working class stereotypes (with salad and chips): an unconventional post-pub snack that comes courtesy of sanctimonious vigilante Saleh (Abaza). Following the tragic manslaughter of his father (Rashed), this stripy-aproned crusader takes revenge on the world one late-night customer at a time. But alas, unfortunately for him (yet very fortunately for his failing business) a sleazy former reality TV star (Williams) is opening a nearby nightclub that specialises in cheap drinks. And of course, since being drunk and being a shouty/ sweary primal thug are synonymous in this world, then our unconventional public servant has his work cut out. Cue much blood, guts and garlic sauce.
Despite the sneering tone of my synopsis, the primary problem with K-Shop is its judgemental tone. That Saleh doesn’t target a specific person, focussing instead on a specific culture, means an element of demographic profiling is embedded into its premise. Though the film’s many montages of working class clubbers pissing, vomiting, wailing and shagging lacks any of the nuance necessary to evade falling into offensive territory. Not much better are the quiet moments, that suggest this underclass lack moral fibre, spending their days wheeling, dealing and lying about whether they asked for cheese or not. Really, it’s like Eden Lake with the windows down, and the volume up, blaring I Predict A Riot on repeat (a song that makes a brief cameo). The town’s tracksuit/ cheap shirt wearing lads and laddettes are portrayed in only the worst ways, with their only redemption coming from accepting their own relative worthlessness.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Pringle was careful to either explicitly frame the movie as a perspective piece or present exceptions to the myopic rules. But he doesn’t do either. To be clear, mass generalisations of particular groups (by race, class, gender or sex) are fine provided there’s a means to ironize the representation so as to distinguish the viewpoint of the protagonist from the filmmakers (see Felt for a recent example). But K-Shop lacks a second narrative level to its characterisation and thus comes across as unabashedly offensive. To be fair, the movie does not necessarily condone Saleh’s actions, and even goes some way towards challenging it (albeit very briefly). Yet in degrading near all those on the other side of the counter to such a grotesque level it definitely legitimises it.
All of this is frustrating as the movie’s otherwise competently made. Saleh’s arc, from uni drop out to kebab shop killer, is handled with enough skill that the frankly ridiculous premise never seems as over the top as it should. This is in no small part due to its leading man, who injects moments of real pathos in a film mostly lacking any heart. There’s even a love story that sort of works and an apprentice angle that does. The pacing’s also exemplary, with rarely a wasted moment in the near 2-hour duration. From the claustrophobic opener it never loses its momentum – and for a movie-type often plagued by second act fatigue this is an achievement. Furthermore, if you like gore there are some decent portions that really conceal the movie’s modest budget (it was crowdfunded) and some accomplished dark comedy (though more of this would have been welcome).
Despite these plus points, it’s hard to recommend a film that offers catharsis through classism in a town where one in five children lives below the poverty line. It’s punching downwards and really not particularly productive. Sure, it’s quite enjoyable at points. But much like a kebab consumed sober, it’ll leave a bad taste in the mouth.