Gorgeous photography and an elusive storytelling style combine to make this dark dramatic thriller both gripping and rather frustrating. Without some understanding of the nature of honour killing in Britain, it will be difficult to make much sense out of the plot. But the atmospheric filmmaking helps make up for this, and it also covers over an uneven central performance.
The story opens in an isolated trailer park on the edge of a Yorkshire town, where young Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is in hiding with her Scottish boyfriend Aaron (Connor McCarron). But as she quietly heads to work, there are several men on her trail. Laila's brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad) is just back from Pakistan and is tracking her down with three friends, while her father (Wasim Zakir) has hired Tony (Gary Lewis) and his friend Barry (Barry Nunney) to find her. Clearly, her family wants her back, and Laila knows they're not planning to welcome her with open arms. So she and Aaron make a run for it.
Shot and edited in an observational style, directors Daniel and Matthew Wolfe don't make it very easy for the audience, never quite explaining what's happening and letting the actors speak in mumbled thick dialect. This makes it tricky to engage with any of the characters, especially the inexpressive Ahmed, who is better in the quiet scenes than she is when required to display emotion. She does capture a strong sense of desperation, as Laila is literally fighting for her life. It's clear that each character has his or her own story within the bigger narrative, but working these out sometimes feels like a chore, even with terrific actors on board like Lewis, Nichola Burley (as Laila's boss) and Kate Dickie (as Aaron's mum).
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Five guests arrive at the snowy, isolated Cliff Edge Hotel, perched high above a foreboding beach: Elly (Peake) is struggling to come to terms with a past tragedy, Glen (Hilton) is a has-been rocker in need of inspiration, Philip and Sophie (Dempsie and Burley) are on a blind-date weekend, and Wendy (Yates) intends to end it all. Chambermaid Agata (Wendzikowska) takes care of them for the weekend, which doesn't go as any of them planned. This is mainly because each person's isolation is interrupted in ways that will change their lives.
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Jerome is a Premiership footballer living the dream life: a fancy car, loads of money and a hot girlfriend; not to mention the luxury flat he lives in and vast opportunities for his career. It's a world away from the council estate and the grotty life he grew up with as a child.
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When the farmer Earnshaw (Hilton) brings a street urchin (Howson) home after a trip to Liverpool, he adopts him as a son and has him christened Heathcliff. He bonds quickly with Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Beer), but her older brother Hindley (Shaw) continually abuses him. This only gets worse after Earnshaw's death, and when Cathy decides to marry the rich neighbour Linton (Northcote), Heathcliff runs away. Years later, he returns (now Howson) to confront Cathy (now Scodelario) about her true feelings.
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Joe (Compston) is bored with his deliveryman job and with hanging out at the cheesy local bar/nightclub. Then he spots gorgeous hairdresser Jane (Burley), who introduces him to the world of Northern Soul. Even he's surprised how much he enjoys the all-night dances at Wigan Casino, although his best pal Russ (Allen) isn't so sure and thinks some drugs might help. There Joe also runs into his friend Dexie (Reece), whose sister Mandy (Jones) helps Joe learn the steps and the culture. She also rather confuses his pursuit of Jane.
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It's an intriguing idea, but the film is too timid and awkward to really get going.
Two 15-year-old girls are bored with their life in Liverpool. Nicole (Hayes) lives with an absent mother, while her rich friend Jasmine (Burley) has parents who are more interested in plastic surgery than her. They spend their afternoons lusting after their favourite football player, Lee (Doyle), and are stunned when they find out he's transferring to Madrid. Suddenly their yearning to catch his attention becomes something with a purpose, and they cross the line, confronting Lee about his plans on a night during which anything could happen.
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Carly (Burley) is horrified when her boyfriend Jay (Roach) announces that not only is he leaving their successful street dance crew, but he also wants to break up with her. Suddenly she's in charge of the team, and she makes a deal with a ballet teacher (Rampling) to use a dance studio in exchange for adding five of the students to her team. One of them, Tomas (Winsor), takes a special interest in Carly, but the ballet dancers struggle to add street-cred to their moves. And the big competition is in just five weeks.
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A lesser filmmaker could have done nothing more than give the film its title and gone home. You'd certainly think that was the case from the film's opening notes: Three scantily-clad Brit birds (Nichola Burley, Jaime Winstone, Sian Breckin), on vacation in Spain, decide to take a spin on a yacht with a pack of tanned Aeropostale-types (Robert Boulter, Tom Burke, Julian Morris, Jay Taylor) with hits of ecstasy, a few Heinekens, and a DJ setup in tow.
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The Vault lets loose its first unreleased material.
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