Monday 14th October, 6.15pm – Vue West End, Screen 7
Wednesday 16th October, 1.30pm – ICA Cinema, Charing Cross
Boy witnesses murder and is dragged into a maelstrom of violence in this formulaic but well-directed first feature from celebrated short film director Rob Brown.
Jumah – a 15-year-old child soldier from the Congo – is everything you expect from the stereotypical angry young man: impulsive, aggressive, impatient and mute. He, like almost every character in film, assumes de facto that the police can’t be trusted, so when he finds himself embroiled in gangland violence he has to take matters into his own hands. So far so typical. Indeed, little of this story is atypical (a beautifully intimate haircut and the pleasingly novel idea of a girl wanting sex from an unwilling boy aside).
But for all the predictability of Sixteen’s writing it’s achingly well-directed, suggesting screenwriter/director Rob Brown has a burgeoning career behind the camera even if his days tapping out scripts are numbered. Indeed, the standout scenes tend to be those stripped of dialogue and with little action. Here, Brown creates the story with the lens rather than the pen, showing his potential as a director. Furthermore, with a story of limited scope and ambition, Brown draws decent and believable performances from his young and inexperienced cast, particularly Roger Nsengiyumva’s controlled Jumah who exists in an agony of silence.
Such direction makes up for lapses in continuity, and probably explains how Brown managed to source over £17,000 of his production budget from a crowd-sourcing Kickstarter fund, but it can’t atone for the broad characterisation and generic plotting. It’s not enough to brand Jumah, literally, a child soldier and assume as a matter of course that this wound in the past justifies erratic behaviour and elicits audience sympathy. It doesn’t. The crowd need to see grit and experience thrills, but Sixteen lacks both, resulting in a staid drama sorely missing either a sense of danger to put it into Harry Brown territory, or a quirky idiosyncrasy that would put it in with Fish Tank.
Gorgeously restrained, with an evocative soundtrack and immersive photography, Sixteen may not win the first feature competition at the London Film Festival, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see director Rob Brown’s name cropping up in further competitions over the next decade. Sixteen is an assured feature debut, but unfortunately a well-directed thriller lacking in thrills remains a thriller lacking in thrills.
Sixteen is part of the first feature competition of the 57th London Film Festival.
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Watch the producers of Sixteen discuss the film on the red carpet at London Film Festival here: