Starring Scot Williams, Ewen MacIntosh, Lucinda Rhodes Thakrar
Directed by Dan Pringle
K-Shop is a gritty and satirical urban horror film. It is a damning social commentary on a demographic of people in Britain, and their contemptible behavior when participating in the country’s binge drinking culture. It is darkly humorous at times, but mostly plays it straight; its true to life depiction is frighteningly accurate, and depressingly relevant. Being British myself, I can confirm this. Its imagery is gruesome, as it takes inspiration from the old Victorian tale and London urban legend of Sweeney Todd, giving it a Kebab shop spin. As its tagline says – “You are what you eat.”
The structure of the narrative is divided into a prologue and thirteen sections, each with its own chapter heading.
When his kebab shop owner father is killed in an altercation with a group of drunken yobs, sociology student Salah (Ziad Abaza) is forced to run the shop on his own. Struggling to cope with the rowdy nightlife on his doorstep, mostly coming out of a newly opened nightclub that has quickly grown popular, it eventually leads to a fight with an intoxicated angry customer that ends fatally. Not having faith in the law, Salah disposes of the body using his expertise – by chopping up it up, and turning into doner kebab meat.
This gives Salah the taste for the kill, and the combination of the grief of losing his father, and the constant verbal and physical abuse he is subjected to, sends him right over the edge into the dark abyss with the want for revenge. When the source of his meat supplies cannot provide, he finds the answer by killing two birds with one stone. Dealing out vigilante justice on the plague of drunks constantly turning up at his shop for their drunken munches, he stocks up on their flesh for his tasty new recipe. The unique flavor makes for a booming business, keeping the boozed up undesirables coming back for more… and to often meet grisly ends.
Making his debut feature – writer, director and editor, Dan Pringle, creates the authenticity of these sordid proceedings of alcohol abuse. Set in a nameless seaside town, and filmed entirely on location on the streets of Bournemouth, Dorset, on the South Coast of England, there are montages of shots consisting of fly-on-the-wall footage, giving a candid insight into the town’s real nightlife over the weekends… and it is not a pretty sight. All the primal knuckle-dragging anti-social behavior is here – the fighting, the shouting, the staggering about, the passing out, the public sex, the urinating, and the vomiting. This punctuates the fictional story set against this backdrop, emphasizing upon the filthy realism of it all.
The solid cast all turn in immensely effective performances. The lead, Abaza, effortlessly carries the film with such conviction as the brooding, damaged, and unhinged, Salah, showing a lot of maturity for such a young actor with a limited filmography under his belt. He has made the smooth transition from a bit part in just last year’s James Bond blockbuster Spectre, as “Train Barman”, to the lead in a low-budget independent feature with impressive production values. The characters the supporting players portray, successfully antagonize us, as we long to see these boozy low life thugs get their comeuppance. It makes for cringe making viewing as well, especially if you are a Brit like myself, to see this disgusting binge drinking culture come realistically to life right in front of you.
While the actions Salah takes in order to tackle these hideously stupid people is extreme, and while we might not agree with these acts of bloody violence, his situation in having to deal with this bullshit night after night, is palatable, as we all have experienced the unpleasantness of these obnoxious and belligerent types under the influence of alcohol. Imagine these occasional encounters becoming a regular thing every night, and then you know where Salah is coming from. He is definitely an anti-hero, and we feel no sympathy for his wretched victims.
Much like Sweeny Todd, Salah struggles with his conscience, while rationalizing that what he is doing is logical and justified – in keeping his business going by recycling the corpses for stock, and at the same time, dealing out the justice. Although instead of becoming desensitized to it all, he actually becomes more sensitive, with the realization that his murderous war on the street scum, is not making his life any better. It shows Salah still has a humane side, despite the vengeful vigilante that has consumed him. This is an important component in making this anti-hero work; he is a complex and sympathetic protagonist.
Pringle also shows such maturity as a young filmmaker, with a genuine emotional lending to the material. In a truly inspired moment of pathos, Salah sympathizes with the most unlikeliest of people – a repulsive character and potential victim. Chained to the freezer in the shop’s basement, is the foul-mouthed and aggressive, Steve, played by the excellent Darren Morfitt (you might remember him as Spoon, in Neil Marshall’s 2002 modern werewolf classic Dog Soldiers). They both open up about their miserable childhoods as Steve’s father is dying in hospital. This is his weakness that has led to his wild partying to cover up his insecurities. Tender moments like this give the film heart; these scenes help to elevate it above being just geek show genre fare.
Local celebrity, Jason Brown (the convincingly loathsome, Scot Williams), is the main antagonist – the arrogant and flash former Big Brother winner turned nightclub owner. His popular nightclub is the cause of Salah’s problems, and after several years, Brown is opening an even bigger club. Pringle explores the dark side of British nightclub culture even further here. Brown is not only exploiting his clientele’s need for catharsis on the weekends after a long week’s work, he is also peddling drugs to them. The character also highlights Britain’s problem with racism on ethnic minorities. He gives a disturbing monologue to Salah in the climax, about he thinks immigrants are jealous of how British people are able to have a “good time” as “his kind” are incapable of having one. Brown embodies the social ugliness in Britain’s culture. He also being an ex-reality TV star is no coincidence either.
The gore SFX is realistic and there are generous amounts of it. The director knows to show just enough though that it does not become gratuitous, as it is always relative to the story giving it a brutal and uncompromising vision. The basement where the murders take place is suitably grimy.
This is far from being a perfect film though. Salah’s transformation from a bookish university student burdened with running the family business, to a killer of vile binge drinkers, somewhat just happens with an abrupt flip of the script. He just snaps and turns nasty in not much time at all, and then there is a narrative jump of several years, having spent all this time trying to clear up the streets of this alcohol-filled vermin. This is disappointing, as it would have been far more interesting if there were more character development in watching the dark evolution of this tragic character. With a 115-minutes runtime, screen time could have been made for this.
Instead, there is a sub-plot seemingly heading in the direction of a romance between Salah and a kindred spirit – Sarah (Kristin Atherton) – but sadly, it goes nowhere. It is interesting while it lasts, but it is strangely dropped in the last act with no resolve. This was either how the screenplay was written, or scenes ended up the cutting room floor. Either way, this makes for frustrating viewing.
While flawed, K-Shop is a captivating film. It does for binge drinkers what James Watkins’ terrific 2008 Brit flick Eden Lake, did for hoodies. It might not be quite as good as that, but it is an intelligent and honest observation of the dark side of drinking culture that is bleak, horrific, intense, and emotive, with some black as coal humor that makes for a satisfyingly entertaining watch, all the way to its tragically ironic ending. It is an assuredly executed debut feature, showcasing the potential that gifted young filmmaker, Dan Pringle, has to go on to greater things.
Released in the UK this past summer, K-Shop has just had its US premiere at the NYC Horror Film Festival. An American distributor is to be announced.