Jamie Jones/ UK/ 2018/ 96 mins
As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival
Obey follows Leon (Marcus Rutherford), a nineteen year old boy with an alcoholic mother, who has grown up in and out of care. When he meets Twiggy (Sophie Kennedy Clark), an affluent girl living in a nearby squat, he begins to see her middle-class life as an escape from ending up like his mother and friends, who are becoming increasingly caught up in tensions between the local community and the police. However, circumstances result in Leon being thrust back into his surroundings, at a time when the tensions have escalated to a full-blown riot.
Director Jones effectively portrays the social circumstances leading up to the riots, showing Leon’s local boxing gym closing down and frequent cutaways to news bulletins referring to increasing local animosity towards the police. The contrasts between Leon’s normal life and his time with Twiggy are also clearly delineated, nicely conveying Leon’s reasons for initially abandoning his old life. Specifically, Leon’s relationship with his alcoholic mother (T’nia Miller) and her abusive boyfriend (James Atwell) convincingly depicts the extreme difficulties faced by a young person in that situation, with his sunset journey with Twiggy on a houseboat acting as a contrast to his chaotic normality.
Jones also effectively shoots the riot scenes at the end, taking the low budget into account by focusing on how it affects Leon and his friends rather than taking a broader scope approach that would remove the tight focus Leon and his choices. Rutherford manages to capture Leon’s conflicted nature as he is divided between his family and friends and Twiggy, and sells his gravitation towards violence during the film’s third act. He also has convincing chemistry with Kennedy Clark, who is less impressive as Twiggy but still provides the character with a freewheeling sensibility that acts as a counterpoint to the more troubled Leon.
In summary, Obey is a character-driven piece that effectively uses a cross-class relationship to acknowledge the social and class-related factors that led to the 2011 riots. Worth watching if you want a Black British alternative to exploitative thrillers such as Brotherhood.