Over the last few years, a wide variety of film-makers have tackled British street culture with equally varied success, producing films which range from perspicacious and enthralling (Kidulthood) to anodyne and tedious (the basically unrelated Anuvahood) via totally, unconscionably mental (Neds). Sket is none of these things – and against all the odds, it’s actually found a hitherto untouched subject to discuss. Stylish, unnerving and guaranteed to shatter any shred of innocence you had left, this is your introduction to the world of the girl gang.
Geordie teenager Kayla (Kelly) couldn’t be less happy about moving to London, but following her mum’s death her well-meaning sister Tanya (Katie Foster-Barnes) thought it was for the best if she and Kayla got a fresh start in a new city. Unfortunately for Kayla, her first taste of this fresh start comes when two opportunistic thugs try to assault her on a bus. However, the day is saved by the violent and unpredictable Daze (Hartley-Miller) and her gang of East London ‘skets’ – that is to say, young women with no discernable morals or codes of behaviour. Daze and the girls go where they want, drink and smoke what they want and fuck who they want, with scant regard for anything or anyone but themselves.
Kayla reluctantly helps the girls out with some petty theft to ‘pay’ for her bus rescue, but while she’s off gallivanting her sister runs into some trouble with local dealer and kingpin Trey (Walters). With Tanya in hospital, Kayla is determined to wreak her revenge on Trey and all his works, but to do that she’ll need Daze’s help as well as that of Shaks (Steele), Trey’s powerful but cowed trophy girlfriend. Daze insists that only by being harder and stronger than men can the girls defend themselves; but can Kayla really suppress enough of her old life to become a fighter? It’s time for the skets to take back the streets.
The opening credits of Sket, which feature a thumping soundtrack and quick, almost strobed images of the ‘skets’ kicking the living shit out of an unidentified bloke, do the film a grave disservice; beneath the apparently gratuitous violence, swearing and general unpleasantness lurks a very well-constructed film. When we’re first properly introduced to Daze and her girls (who include Lily Loveless and Adelayo Adedayo), their behaviour is abhorrent and unforgivable precisely because we don’t know why it’s happening. Over the course of the film, however, each one of the gang’s many tussles is given more context than the last, and by the time of the climactic encounter with Trey (come on, you knew there’d be one) I found myself rooting for characters who I would ordinarily cross the road to avoid.
This is director Nirpal Bhogal’s first feature, and it shows – there’s an abundance of clichéd shots, the dialogue frequently feels thrown together and that bit where the chap’s eye gets burst is the very height of gratuitous gore. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to enjoy about Sket; the fights are horribly well choreographed, and the relatively inexperienced cast delivers the goods with aplomb. Aimee Kelly handles Kayla’s transformation from grungy but inoffensive teen to spitting hellcat is disturbingly convincing, and Emma Hartley-Miller is genuinely frightening as the ferociously man-hating Daze. Ashley Walters’ Trey is an adequate if one-note villain, and Riann Steele does a masterful job as a gangster’s moll who craves redemption.
A classy film this is not. But Sket is passionate, thrilling and eminently watchable; Nirpal Bhogal is clearly a director to watch, and I won’t be surprised if we see more of the film’s young stars too. Go and see it by all means – but go on an empty stomach, and don’t walk home from the cinema on your own.