Jade (Vicky Knight) is released from hospital, bearing the disfigurement caused by an acid attack perpetrated by her former partner and father to her child.
As might be expected by the logline, this film is a tough watch that forces the viewer every moment to face up to the awfulness of this crime, as the protagonist must do for the rest of her life. Knight is able to give a raw and authentic performance as Jade, a character raised in the concrete streets of East London and largely unprepared for the challenges of her new life.
Director Sacha Polak (in her first English language film) wisely focuses on the aftermath of the attack rather than the event itself. This is a terrifying phenomenon that had mass media coverage in the UK last year, but what people may have to live with for the rest of their lives has not been addressed.
Jade’s troubles do not come from her immediate health but how people’s perceptions towards her have changed. She has feelings for a friend, but it is implied he dates Shami (Rebecca Stone) because of her appearance. Jade also finds herself bullied at work, and feeling pressured into raising money for a dodgy plastic surgery clinic in Morocco.
There are undoubtedly scenes that are hard-hitting, and it was another wise decision of Polak to not turn Jade into a saint. The cruelty of her fate is both internalised and unleashed on those around her, lending itself to the film’s title which evokes 80s film Children of a Lesser God.
Detracting from the film are certain disjointed scenes, for instance when Jade decides to temporarily wear a burka or fantasised scenes with her former partner and attacker. As the film goes on her suffering seems to be compounded at points for the sake of it, and there are moments of heartbreak that actually strain believability.
This being said, Polak is largely consistent in establishing a realistic world for Jade to inhabit, and the inclusion of thinly written bullies doesn’t entirely detract from the seeming futility of her ongoing struggles.
This is not simply a ‘message’ film, but one of narrative and pathos that allows a viewer to explore a protagonist from the ground up. Both Knight and Polak must be commended for the way in which they have approached the material.
Dirty God has had a positive reception at the Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals, and will surely play a part in the conversation about the ongoing crisis of acid attacks following a wider release.
Dirty God is in UK cinemas from 7th June.