Shank: a stab at the big time

Shank is a new urban gang film with a difference – its message is strictly anti-knives and violence

With knife crime high on the political agenda, a film called Shank featuring scowling teens set against a grime soundtrack could have been a case of repetition as far as British urban dramas are concerned. The past decade has seen film-makers preoccupied to the point of obsession with exposing the harsh realities of today's youth. But where Kidulthood set a controversial precedent with its coarse portrayal of violence, sex and drugs, Shank emerges as as a well-executed, urban action film with the intent of making the Government's crackdown on knife crime that bit more achievable.

Set in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic London (quite worryingly, considering the year is 2015), Shank's kids are simply struggling to survive and hustle for food – or "munchies" – in a city that's been damaged by the poverty gap and postcode wars. They exist in crews, distinguished by their moral codes. There are the Somalis, who live by the motto "chew khat, ride BMX, fight with heavy metal" and the Originals, led by an old-school gangster who runs the local block. The Paperchaserz are the protagonists of the film, a bunch of male misfits who don't do violence and have become the quintessential family for Junior (Kedar Williams-Stirling), the baby-faced narrator who looks upon the New London with the weariness of an elderly man.

You can't fault his pessimism either: the chicken shops now serve only fried pigeon; food heists are planned meticulously by his older brother (played by Grime MC Ashley "Bashy" Thomas) and scrap metal might just get you a sausage. But when Junior gets caught up in a dispute with a rival crew, he faces a decision that defines the film's clear anti-knife crime message.

"Kids killing each other is more of a trend now and it's very sad," says Mo Ali, the film's director. "It's the environment that teaches them that it's OK to do that, or that it's cool to stand up for your rights and kill someone for them. There's no emotional connection to taking a life. We have to a tackle that – we have to show how horrible it is as much as possible, but with these young kids, the last thing they want for us to do is to ram it down their throat."

Shank is Ali's major film debut, after years of shooting music videos for grime artists such Wiley, Tinchy Stryder and Dizzee Rascal. The young director could relate to the film's context, having grown up in a Saudi Arabian shanty town, before moving to the UK aged six. "I was a toddler when I was doing stuff that grown teenagers were doing in the street," he says. "So I relate to Junior. There was no father figure so I had my older brother looking after me." As a teenager living in Beckton, he was accustomed to meeting young people caught up in the cycle of violence. "Some of them didn't choose the right path. Some of them did, but luckily for me, I wanted to be a film-maker, so I couldn't sacrifice my goal in life to do something silly," says the 27-year-old. "Some of my friends didn't have that natural ambition or care what their life meant. They just cared about respect."

Unknown to Ali, the story of Shank was being developed by Revolver Entertainment, the distribution company behind Kidulthood. Writer and producer Paul Carter was recruited to write the screenplay and, along with Ali, spoke to young people in schools to discover what type of film would appeal to them. "We call it 'reverse engineering' which the Hollywood studios do day in and day out," says Carter. "They go directly to their market and ask what kind of film would you like to see. Overall, what came out was that they wanted more fantasy elements, rather than the gritty, depressing, 'this is what it's like living in the ghetto'. They know that – they don't need to be reminded of it as Bullet Boy and Adulthood keep doing. For me, it was about taking something that didn't feel like it had much scope, just another depressing gang film shot on a low-budget in London, and trying to make it epic."

The film was shot in abandoned streets in south London in a month to keep costs down, but despite the limited cashflow, the film's visuals are funky. Fight scenes are presented in video-game episodes, while creative camera angles and low-resolution video images all add style, the result of Ali's experience with music promos. "I didn't want to do the obvious, bread-and-butter film technique," he points out. "So I took all the British filming rules, crumpled them up and chucked them away. I thought, 'I'm going to make this visually exciting and more apocalyptic and dark', and I think it came out quite well. The first thing people said was that it looks completely different from a British film."

"You can see from the film that we did a good job for the money," adds Carter, who revealed they worked with £400,000 compared to Kidulthood's £1.25m budget. "It's raw and it's gritty in the way it's shot, but I still wanted it to have a cult feel. If it could do anything, I'd want it to sit alongside The Warriors, Reservoir Dogs, Lock Stock or Quadrophenia."

In the cast are Skins star Kaya Scodelario as the feisty eye-candy who can kick ass, Adam Deacon (Kidulthood, Adulthood, Dubplate Drama), pin-up Jan Uddin and a hilarious Michael Socha. Fifteen-year-old newcomer Rheanne Murray landed a part after contributing to one of the scriptwriting focus groups. Ali and Carter were keen to avoid the usual soundbites in their script. "That's all been done before in British cinema," says Ali. "There's a template that says British films for urban kids have to have a staple diet – a bunch of hoodies, loads of blood and robbery scenes."

Shank isn't exactly devoid of cliché, though. Skepta's menacing "Sticks and Stones" blares out as the characters lurk on the streets; there's a dog fight at one point, and a drinking scene could have been ripped right out of BBC's one-off West 10 LDN. The Souljahz, the most reckless of gangs, also consists of mainly black boys. Ultimately, Shank seems intent on taking these stories out of a niche market and into a mainstream that is growing comfortable with urban youth culture. It's clearly aimed at a pop market of teenagers whose parents might even appreciate the more novel elements. "Kidulthood, Adulthood and even Bullet Boy, they were the benchmark," says Ali. "Without them, this film wouldn't be here. It's my hope that Shank is an evolution."



Shank is released on 26 March

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee