Obey

Obey

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Obey opens with a meander, a parcel of rogues ambling without obvious intent. There's a joke, or at least an anecdote, or at least one of those rambling stories that is aiming for humour. One that isn't predicated upon the similar sounds of Fruitella and fistulae, but a different proximity.

That filthy closeness is all around Obey. Even on sunny summer supersuburban streets there is a sense of the metropolis, but the one without workers, the one without direction, the one without design. The one where the number of options narrows, one where the doors close unseen. London in the heat, the television and radio in the background. It might be the early twenty tens, but it doesn't matter how old the phones or the cars are, where the projections of power come from. Inequality breeds discontent, but quality - which this film has - has a quality all its own.

Central to the film, despite or because of the intersections of aimless youth, of family support, of family in need of support, of gentrification through displacement and squatter imperatives, opportunities for romance, bucolic escapes by boat, wrapped up tight and tighter is Leon, a stunning feature début for Marcus Rutherford. Eight years ago Pilou Asbaek was Rune in a film about similar narrowings, R (sometimes subtitled Hit First, Hit Hardest), more recently Anwar Boulifa's A Short Guide To Re-Entry created weight in a single role for a writer/director. I called that a "mechanical engine of despair", and Obey might be crueller, cooler, rambling across the expanse of a particular time and place that might be no time and place. You can root it to a given then or now by the way in which a different man dies, by the consequences of and to the built environment, but these are nested injustices - the gallows don't await as was the case in Let Him Have It, but endings are no less bleak here.

I mention these other films because this is not, in its own ways, a new story - but it's told by new voices, with talent.

It's a début feature not only for Rutherford, but behind the camera for Jamie Jones. There are elements borrowed from some of his shorts (in particular the parlousness of accommodation) and thematic links to breakdowns of 'civilisation', but also to TV work. Marcus is a boxer, or at least fills his days at the gym, but he's stuck in that NEET little bracket and prospects are not bright. His wit and nature have been seeing him through, but decisions others make have significant consequences for him.

Among them, the arrival of Twiggy. Sophie Kennedy Clark is among the bigger names, but not alone. T'Nia Miller's role as Leon's mother is too complex to summarise, but a conversation between the two serves to highlight just how large the gaps within the city can be. The cast are all good, many (most) early enough in their careers that having spotted them in shorts like Work feels like a reward. Leon and Twiggy meet at a party at a squat that, well, that's enough to start with.

It's full of well observed detail, sunshine on a canal boat, the various apparatuses of modern oblivion, little things like make-up effects for injury and the restlessness of the camera. There's certainly a documentary feel at times, one only given pause by the unbranded chyrons on the television news, the vague blur of era required by the fact that these are not new stories, just a new arrangement. Like the punchbag Leon improvises, familiar components in a different but familiar order, and like Leon himself under increasing, unsustainable pressure.

Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2018
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In the midst of the 2011 London riots, Leon grapples with the stark reality of his life and his relationship with his alcoholic mother while falling in love for the first time.


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