Once upon a time in the North...
While critics fret about Mr Turner’s poor showing in awards noms, the Brit-pic fringes continue to deliver rough-hewn gems equally worth noticing. First-timer flaws aside, Daniel Wolfe’s debut is a violent yet vigorous, vivid case in point. Echoing Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and, perhaps, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, Wolfe merges western genre conceits with wild Yorkshire moors backdrops for a tough, tense statement of off-mainstream intent: a rugged riff on ‘honour killings’ in British Pakistani communities mounted with immersive assurance.
Like Glazer, Wolfe comes from a pop-vid background and juggles pro actors with newbies smartly. The gambit scores royally in the casting of Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, who brings affecting cockiness and wide-eyed innocence to Laila, a British-Asian teen absconded from home with white squeeze Aaron (NEDS’ Conor McCarron). But clouds brew as we see two gangs – one led by a white thug, another by Laila’s brother – tool up. Turns out her dad employed them to hunt Laila down: and he wants results badly.
A happy ending isn’t expected, but Wolfe doesn’t merely max the misery. Warm human touches – a dopey milkshake mixer, a kind hairdresser – root a mythical, potentially pre-ordained narrative arc in raw life. Lyrically lensed by DoP Robbie Ryan (Wuthering Heights), the landscapes seem equally alive, notably in an end stretch where knowing the turf becomes vital for survival.
Wolfe is less assured at navigating physical action but he and brother Matthew’s exposition-free script brings a confident, gut-punch immediacy to politically fraught material. And if the shrill end stretch gets a bit over-fraught, Wolfe regains his grip for a chillingly ambiguous climax you won’t forget in a hurry.
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