“Man’s world. Sisters’ hood.”
Director: Nirpal Bhogal
Cast: Lily Loveless, Riann Steele, Aimee Kelly
Synopsis: When a young woman is cruelly and indiscriminately attacked by a notorious gang led by the violent Trey, her little 16 year old sister Kayla wants revenge and will stop at nothing to get it…
Cashing in on a taste for urban youth dramas initiated by the likes of Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood, comes Nirpal Bhoga’s Sket, a bruising drama that puffs out its chest in an attempt to look tougher than it really is, but by doing so only succeeds in emphasising its shortcomings. Apart from the brutal murder which finally gives the film its focus after a protracted opening sequence that looks as if it’s taking the film in an entirely different direction, Sket lacks for the most part the level of scathing insight it’s clearly trying to provide.
Aimee Kelly plays Kayla, a Newcastle lass who is uprooted from her home town by her older sister Tanya (Kate Foster-Barnes) following the death of their mother and planted in the middle of a rough East London council estate. Quite why Tanya believed doing this would be a good thing for her clearly vulnerable little sister is never explained, so you can’t help understanding why Kayla is so hacked off about it. She begins to forge a tenuous friendship with Daze (Emma Hartley-Miller) the hard-bitten leader of a tough girl gang, but things are complicated when Tanya is murdered in the street by Trey, a vicious drug dealer, who has impregnated Shaks (Rianne Steele), another brief acquaintance of Kayla.
Tanya’s murder, in a deserted night-time London street, is frighteningly convincing and by far the film’s strongest moment. Her death is meaningless and unimportant, much as the lives of those involved both directly and indirectly, are considered meaningless and unimportant by many of those outside their social strata. Deprived of decent education or the opportunity of work, these working class youths are forced to either exist on pitiful state handouts or commit petty crimes in order to survive. To escape the drudgery of their lives, they take drugs and screw around, and thus ensure that the slow spiral of moral decay is passed on to successive generations. It’s a depressing state of affairs which is echoed around the world, and although Bhoga’s story is steeped in the urban sub-culture of modern-day London, it could just as easily be set in any major city in the world. Either way, it’s the only scene in which Sket comes anywhere close to what it is trying to be.
This is a powerful subject which can only be told on adult terms, but Bhoga pulls his punches in too many ways. A sket is basically a girl who sleeps around and is considered a whore even by her peers, but the girl gang with whom Kayla eventually allies herself is fairly lightweight. They’re not afraid to use their combined strength to beat up men, but when it comes to drugs we see them doing nothing worse than smoking dope, and contact with their male peers – beating them senseless aside – is limited to some coy flirting that looks more likely to take place behind the bike sheds of a middle-class secondary school than the concrete wasteland of an urban slum. Their toughness, you see, as Daze confesses to Kayla, is all an act they employ as a survival tool in a male-dominated world of violence, abuse, and degradation. Bhoga’s obviously trying to keep the audience on the side of his mostly unlikeable female protagonists as they commit acts of violence and plot murder, but it’s clumsily done and simply doesn’t ring true.
Although the story lacks the venom it needs to be truly authentic and believable, the young cast all put in committed performances. Despite promoting its tough feminist perspective, top billing goes to the impressive Ashley Walters who, as the unreasoning Trey, delivers a glowering performance that is entirely believable (it’s the kind of act 15-year-old wannabe street gangsters will be copying once they see the film). Newcomer Aimee Kelly also does well in a difficult role as Kayla, convincingly capturing both her character’s inner strength and vulnerability. These performances, and those of the rest of the cast, go a long way towards redeeming an otherwise unconvincing story.