Most gay coming of age movies are rather predictable tales of teen angst. While they reflect a very real experience, they do have a tendency to feel very similar. Shank however manages to find a fresh urgency and danger in its tale of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality on the dangerous city streets. Filmed in and around Bristol, the movie follows Cal, who is part of a gang of vicious teen thugs. However when he’s away from his friends, he goes online to troll for men to have anonymous sex with, even if his partners are likely to be beaten up and robbed afterwards.
After he and his gang are involved i viciously gay-bashing someone, Cal finds himself drawn to the young, French victim, who shows him a different life away from the harsh world of aggression and violence he grew up in. However his friends aren’t impressed with being left behind, and when they discover Cal is gay, both his and his new boyfriend’s lives are suddenly in terrible danger.
This low budget, first time effort from director Simon Pearce is far better than most gay movies, bringing something new to the coming out story by taking it into a world rarely seen, of someone coming to terms with their sexuality in an environment where poverty and casual violence go hand in hand.
Admittedly there are a few problems. Some of the acting is slightly dodgy, but it’s not horrific and those in most of the major roles are pretty good, particularly Tom Bott as Cal’s conflicted best friend, Jonno. More problematic is that in its commendable desire to give a motivation to everyone’s actions, it comes up with some pretty soap opera reasoning for why the gang members would be so vicious and angry all the time. They’re dramatic but easy answers and strike a slightly false note compared to the urgent, street level filmmaking on display elsewhere.
Overall though it’s a very good movie, with lots of energy and tension bound up in its story of coming out against a backdrop of hardship and aggression. Although not 100% successful, it’s a potent reminder that in some quarters, coming out is still not only difficult but can also be dangerous.
The DVD comes with a decent selection of special features, although the film is certainly the main event. Shank is one of the better queer cinema efforts to come out of Britain in recent years and as a result it’s definitely worth searching out if you have an interest in gay film.
Overall Verdict: Despite some rough edges and a few unconvincing moments, Shank is a tense and uncompromising tale of coming out (or at least being forced out) on the streets.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
(This review previously featured on MovieMuser.co.uk)