Obey (2018)| *** Tribeca Film Festival 2018 | 21-28 April 2018

April 21st, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jamie Jones; Cast: Marcus Rutherford, Sophie Kennedy Clark, T’Nia Miller, James Atwell, Sam Gittins; UK 2018, 93 min.

Jamie Jones’ feature debut takes place during the London riots in August 2014, after the police killing of Mark Duggan in North London. Black teenager Leon has a hard time, seeking refuge in a small gang, while his mother sinks deeper and deeper into alcohol dependency. But when Jones introduces Twiggy, a young white middle-class woman, who supports the urban youth, the narrative takes a radical change from the usual “hard-luck” story of young black males.

Until he meets Twiggy, the only thing Leon (Rutherford) enjoys is boxing in a dilapidated local gym. His mother Chelsea (Miller) has shacked up with a violent boyfriend called Chris (Atwell), who beats up both mother and son. Meanwhile, Twiggy (Kennedy Clarke) meanwhile, runs around with a camera, taking photos of the gang and police violence. Living in a squat with boyfriend Anton (Gittins), she makes a wild entrance, kissing another woman at a party – but this does not deter Leon from falling for her. Being mocked by his gang members for fancying “Blondie”, Leon goes on a houseboat trip with Twiggy and Anton, interrupting the near-permanent street violence for a romantic outing. After a fight with Chris, Leon enters Twiggy’s flat, and she looks after his wounds, whilst Anton has a deep post-coital sleep. When the police storm the squat in the morning, Anton is arrested, but Leon and Twiggy escape, indulging in alcohol and weed in Leon’s flat where they consummate their relationship. But when Leon wakes up, Twiggy is gone and he later discovers the truth about his lover as the story down-spirals into a violent finale.

DoP Albert Salas handheld camera captures the chaotic violence and Leon’s emotional turmoil. The moment he leaves the security of his gang, he loses his personal perspective and self esteem. Seeing Twiggy as a sort of life-boat, which might take him out of the permanent misery, he fails to grasp that this woman is not only white (which makes him a traitor in the eyes of his peers), but a middle class one at that – one of the do-gooders, who protest against their own privileged status by making a guest appearance in the ghetto-like slums, before returning with her boyfriend to the safety of suburbia when the going gets too rough. Obey is by no means perfect, but superior to many features of the same sub-genre. AS


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