From the moment that producer Danny Donnelly’s name is plastered all over the opening credits of Victim, it’s probably best not to expect too much, given his previous producing credit on Adam Deacon’s horrid vehicle Payback Season earlier this year. Though it is better-assembled than many similar derivative crime dramas, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen done better elsewhere.
When nice country girl Tia (Ashley Madekwe) comes to stay with her cousin Davina (Anna Nightingale), her kindly, naïve attitude disturbs the indelicate balance of Davina’s life, which primarily involves acting as a distraction while her gang of friends commit robberies. Meanwhile, lad Tyson (Ashley Chin) – who has caught the eye of both Tia and Davina – is trying to escape a life of crime altogether, and inevitably, this tension all comes to a head with unpleasant results.
It tries painfully hard – as so many micro-budgeted British films do – to reach for gravitas and emulate the kinetic style of slick American urban thrillers, but the flagrant abuse of faux-shaky cam during the opening heist scene feels horribly affected and self-conscious. Meanwhile, the array of characters will largely be referred to by audiences as “chavs”, bereft of even the slightest hint of social realism, instead reduced to sexed-up London lad have-a-goes stereotypes, parading around backed by a laughable British rap soundtrack, which makes the whole concoction feel wearisome – and oddly confident – within mere minutes.
The crux of Victim’s narrative revolves around Tia, the one wholly good person upon which all hope appears to rest, and the wait for her to be corrupted is what primarily drives the film. There’s a firm tease early on when it appears that Tia is going to be taken advantage of on a night out, and director Alex Pillai milks the suspense for all it is worth.
However, humdrum family drama soon suffocates any sense of tension; young lad Tyson’s (Ashley Chin) alcoholic gambler mother has left him enormous debts, forcing him into a life of crime in order to pay them off and provide for himself and his younger sister. The “one last gig” premise of so many crime thrillers is inevitably, lazily resurrected here, as he reluctantly takes on a final job, with expectedly disastrous results. Of course, he is beleaguered by even further setbacks, which lift just as liberally from the crime thriller handbook while giving absolutely nothing back in return.
A further problem is that Pillai juggles and overstuffs his narrative with too many characters for his brief 86-minute runtime, causing it to feel thinly-spread throughout. Also, the final stretch is propelled by a laughably obvious twist, and though a decent dilemma abounds at the climax, an absurd sting in the tail sends it flying completely off the rails. A closing monologue begins poignantly, though drags on for far too long, eschewing subtlety and in fact coming off as rather preachy.
While the script leaves plenty to be desired, Alex Pillai directs with a strong sense of place here, and evocative night-time cinematography creates an impressive, atmospheric aesthetic despite the low budget. There is also an amusingly po-faced cameo from Adam Deacon – who clearly must have lost a bet to Donnelly – a chip shop owner. However, a few solid observations aside, this is the urban thriller running on low-fi autopilot.
Victim is on limited release from Friday.