Ill Manors is a tricky film to synopsise. It doesn’t have a single simple plot that is followed throughout but is made up of a series of intertwining stories which interact in surprising and shocking ways. What each story has in common is a grim nature, criminal acts, and a general feeling of sadness lingering in the air. Whether a character is being forced to commit murder, dealing drugs, or selling a woman for sex to the workers at Chicken Cottage for £20 because she may have lost their phone, there is understandably not a smile to be seen.
It would be easy to lump Ill Manors into the gritty-British-street-crime-drama category I normally avoid like the white middle-class guy I am but the film is actually surprisingly complex and shows a remarkable amount of visual flair. Writer and director Ben Drew (Plan B from the Bulmers ads) uses a variety of visual styles throughout, clearly unafraid to experiment in his debut feature. A few uses of what I can only describe as live action stop motion animation are particularly impressive and make scenes of drug taking and violence seem almost childish.
Alongside writing a complex script and directing with a unique eye Ben Drew has also written original songs for the film which act as a form of musical narration and turn the film into what could be called an urban musical. The songs work well for the most part and it is these musical interludes (don’t worry, no characters actually sing onscreen) that allow for Drew to indulge in different visual styles. The songs advance the plot as the film briefly moves into being more music video than feature film. It’s a brave move and is not something I’ve ever seen on the big screen before.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the film, I’ll leave that to The Guardian, nor can I say that I enjoyed it in the traditional sense. I left the screening room
wishing I’d eaten more of the free pizza feeling whatever the opposite of uplifted is. Where the film and I fell out was my inability to relate to its characters but we can hardly penalise a film for my failure to get embroiled in drugs, gang culture, or prostitution can we?
Ill Manors felt like someone had punched me in the gut but is a very well made gut punch indeed. If you don’t like urban drama then you probably won’t see this anyway, and hasn’t necessarily sold me on this particularly film category, but for my money Ill Manors is a high quality mark for the genre.