Following recent hits “Shank” and “Anuvahood,” British urban-drama assembly-line shingle Gunslinger puts a femme spin on the genre with girl-gang drama “Sket.” Named after the English slang term for “slut,” gritty pic sees a 16-year-old negotiating the perils of South London’s tough streets. This feature debut for helmer-scribe Nirpal Bhogal seems to have travel aspirations beyond the urban-teen niche, given its restrained use of insider lingo and its accessible revenge storyline. Both factors might embolden offshore distribs to take a shot on “Sket,” although it drew only £70,000 ($111,000) from 66 venues on its opening weekend in Blighty.
Following the death of her mother, Kayla (Aimee Kelly) has relocated to London from the English northeast with her elder sister, Tanya (Katie Foster-Barnes). The immature-looking protag is saved from unwanted male attention on a city bus by aggressive quartet Danielle (Emma Hartley-Miller), Hannah (Lily Loveless), Kiran (Varada Sethu) and Kerry (Adelayo Adedayo), but the gang rebuffs the youngster’s attempts to join their ranks. Plucky Kayla eventually earns their acceptance when she snatches cash from a convenience store at their behest, and enthusiastically joins in on the vicious punishment of a male transgressor (Richie Campbell, who proved a memorable presence in “Anuvahood”).
“Sket” scores with its representation of the shifting dynamics within the girl gang, anchored by a compellingly believable performance from Hartley-Miller as alpha female Danielle, presented as a damaged bully. Less interesting, original or persuasive is a storyline involving local drug kingpin Trey (Ashley Walters, “Bullet Boy”), whose highly unmotivated attempt to murder Tanya spurs Kayla’s revenge mission. Generous-spirited auds will need to leave credulity to one side as the plot spirals toward its inevitably violent conclusion. On the plus side, Riann Steele (“Treacle Jr.”) contributes a nicely poised turn as ambiguous Shaks, Trey’s g.f. and trusted lieutenant who has one eye on the exit.
Heavy themes and relative paucity of jocular slang make “Sket” more consistently serious in tone than British urban hits such as “Kidulthood” and Gunslinger’s two earlier efforts. The question remains whether this is a plus for the core audience, with little certainty that the shortfall can be remedied in arthouses, despite the cachet of the film’s London fest bow.
Tech contributions are all decent, with costume designer Guy Speranza’s block-color streetwear brightening the palette and offering auds an instant fix on individual characters. Depopulated exterior locations, optimistically described by Bhogal in the press kit as “strangely empty and lonely,” seem mostly reflective of limited production coin. Soundtrack cuts, including those from rapper Shystie and music supervisor Sarah Akwisombe’s own alter ego, GoldieLocks, are predictably on the money.