In a time of tremendous turbulence in the British cultural and political landscape, awareness and comment in our cinema is vital. Even more so perhaps is a cinema that examines our identity, not only in terms of pointed critique, but more in terms of expression through the actual texture of film itself. In terms of genre, visual style, tone and an ideology of filmmaking with purpose. In this sense, it could be argued that Dan Pringle’s K-Shop is the right film for the right time: a gruesome and dynamic state of the nation horror that is as wickedly playful as it is unrelenting powerful.

K-Shop depicts a cannily abstracted vision of a nation engorged on excess, feeding on itself for quick satisfaction…a vision that director Dan Pringle literalises into warped exploitation horror filled with shocks, shlock and surprisingly sly satire. Returning to the seaside town of his youth, Student Salah’s life is thrown into disarray when his ailing Kebab shop-owner father dies during an altercation with drunken thugs. As he seeks justice for his father and keep his own dreams alive, a moment of tragic action sets Salah on a dark path as he seeks to punish those whose endless self-destruction and desecration have taken so much from him.

What could have been a schlocky Sweeney Todd-lite becomes something biting and snarling, not only in its darkness…but in terms of its comedic streak, and it is this element that is crucial the film’s success and power. With the context of modern ‘booze Britain’ as it’s ideological battleground, the film gleefully presents us with an abstracted vision of Britain as what can only be described as an amoral and impulsive waste ground. It’s such a strong vision, but like the era of Victorian Penny Dreadful storytelling that Sweeney Todd was born from, it’s extreme and brutal to make a satirical point. The interweaving of horror and comedy is the stitching that holds the piece together as a complete work of hyper reality where as an audience you begin find yourself absorbed into the moral black hole, as the behaviour of the drunken louts assaults the senses and feels somehow more irredeemable than Salah’s murderous response. This is would be problematic, but the film is always aware it is drawing you into this trap, and it keeps you there by playing with your discomfort with sharp humour, delivered with venom by Ziad Abaza as Salah, before exquisitely injecting a moment of pure emotion into the film. It is this moment of clarity that reveals the tragedy that is mined in the space between the driving forces of horror and black comedy. Salah, and the audience, is confronted with the reality that there is no easy answer, no simple solution to the cultural malaise, and that the people he has chastised and butchered aren’t monsters …but a product of an unhappiness that perpetuates itself over and over, leads to an inevitable animalistic surrender. Ultimately, in confronting this, Salah confronts the truth that in his own admitted addiction to his extreme cull of the disenfranchised, he is just as guilty of this surrender to a more primal solution. It’s distinctively tragic picture that holds an entrancing power; challenging and yet inviting in a truly brilliant fashion

You could argue that Pringle pushes too far with some of the commentary, with his repeated roaming shots of men and women acting in the most debauched manner too excessive and obvious. However, I personally believe the excess of this imagery is a comment on our own relationship to a culture which has become so pervasive that it is almost common, and this is where the true horror lurks within the film: the flux between reality and the extreme that blurs into something monstrously familiar. Indeed, this aspect directly flows through the very core of the film and helps shape some of its most compelling emotional and representational drives. Pringle finds balance in placing the extreme within a stripped and grounded sensibility, utilising Salah as the film’s tether. Ziad Abaza’s central performance as Salah is remarkable in holding the narrative drive of the film; he fills the role with an intoxicating schism between vulnerability and strength, one that ebbs and flows as his decent begins, until the two collide when his rage is fully unfurled and grip of sanity begins to tragically slip. Most importantly of all, he embodies the aforementioned relationship between horror and humour that makes the film so palpably vital; as he gives into his impulse, he increasingly becomes more playful, at times engaging in an almost parodic version of the vigilante figure that is so perpetuated in an alarmingly mythic fashion, especially in the brand of British revenge thriller that has emerged in recent years, most clearly evidenced in the Danny Dyer starrer, Vendetta. This willingness to shift between these tones creates the perfect morally dark environment for the performers to excel, and director Pringle to demystify clichés and accusations into a warped expression of modern lost in translation for an entire generation, leading to a conclusion that perfectly encapsulates the baroque nature of the film by playing with bitter fatality, driving vengeance and abstract humour. It’s this final caustic sting in the tail which leaves the audience infected with thought and emotional aching long after the credits roll.

The handling of a potential romance is perhaps the perfect example of the balance and refreshing self-confidence that courses through the film. This narrative plot point could have easily become a millstone around the film’s neck, adding an unnecessary layer of distraction in which the taut focus would have suffered. However, Pringle never overplays this connection; this isn’t some grand redemption, but a moment of possibility between two people who have found themselves trapped in a world that seems to be spiralling. In its simplicity and intentionally vague boundaries, he depicts something that feels true, rather than derailing the film in forced melodrama.

Visually, the film is unadorned and yet bursting with energy. From the very first images, the dark and grimy textures of the world cling to you with an insipid quality. Dirt, blood, vomit and grease are a physical reflection of the waste of potential and hope that the drunken thugs and yobs have lost (or quite literally ‘pissed’ away in the case of one of Salah’s targets) in the haze of their actions. The visual construction of the shop itself channels the feeling of a relic from the past, all beiges and sickly pale aged surfaces, and as such it is a space that initially represents Salah’s metaphorical imprisonment to the past (explicitly his father), before eventually, becoming something of a sanctuary from a present he doesn’t understand and seeks to combat. Like moths to the flame, they are drawn into his reality by the lurid glow of blood red sign and the harsh direct lighting…and as an audience, Pringle draws us in deeper, by accentuating and amplifying these details to create an aesthetic style that feels intensely raw and tonally rich, a sort of gutter wonderland where he has the freedom to push his satire into uncomfortable places through the combination of social realism and horror genre stylisation.

K-Shop is a potent and raw slice of British social horror, that blends pitch black humour and grisly fatalism into a recipe for brooding brilliance, which will truly satisfy horror fans’ hunger for modern exploitation thrills with lashings of intelligence.

Movie Review: K-Shop
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (4 Votes)

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk