We Are Monster (3 stars)

We Are Monster

British thriller based on a real-life crime that's both bold and blunt

Bold in conception and presentation, if somewhat blunt and samey in the way it makes its points, this British thriller takes its story from a distressing real-life crime. Leeshon Alexander – also the film’s screenwriter – plays Robert Stewart, a violent racist who was placed with an Asian cellmate, Zahid Mubarek, during a stint in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution in London. The pairing, to which the script imputes a degree of deliberate mischief on the part of prison staff, duly ended in bloodshed.

First-time director Antony Petrou's film explores Stewart’s character and motivations via flashbacks to his horrible childhood, and the conversations he has with himself in which he develops his loathing for non-white people and his growing interest in expressing this through violence. Alexander embodies both Stewart and the pushier, angrier alter-ego who goads him towards ever more extreme action. It’s a hugely theatrical conceit that doesn’t quite come off, largely because the two don’t have all that much to say to each other that isn’t repetitive bile about 'jungle bunnies' and 'monkey music'.

The script isn’t much more subtle in its evocation of institutional indifference than it is in its treatment of Stewart’s psychosis ('Racism is part and parcel of what we have to put up with,' smarms one prison officer to a concerned colleague), and it’s hard to glean what an adult audience is supposed to learn from endless rants that are as abhorrent the first time as they are the twentieth; were it not for the language used, this would feel like a teaching tool for teenagers. It’s also a little upsetting that the victim, Mubarek (nicely played by Aymen Hamdouchi), gets so little of the film’s interest compared to his killer. Still, We Are Monster deserves note for its spirited rejection of the obvious, naturalistic narrative path, and Simon Richards' cinematography has considerable style and elegance.

Selected release from Fri 1 May.

We Are Monster

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • 1h 28min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Antony Petrou
  • Written by: Leeshon Alexander
  • Cast: Leeshon Alexander, Aymen Hamdouchi, Gethin Anthony
  • UK release: 1 May 2015

Based on the true story of a violent racist (Alexander) who was placed with an Asian cellmate (Hamdouchi) in a young offenders' centre. Screenwriter Alexander plays both the racist and his angrier alter ego who goads him into violence, a theatrical conceit that doesn't quite come off, and overall it's blunt and unsubtle.