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Movie Review: Hell’s Pavement at the Glasgow Film Festival 2009

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Hell's Pavement is the type of film that could have come off as manipulative and contrived, but since it's based on pure fact, it is entirely affecting and powerful. Just because of the sheer fact that it's got truth behind it is shocking on it's own, and the simple nature of the film that merely showcases these tragic truths makes it a dramatically harrowing experience.

The film follows the life of a young girl as she goes through the social care system, going from abusive home to a willing foster couple. Based on actual events and themes present in the foster area of social care, the film shows just one example of the many tragic cases of a mentally and physically abused child.

The film is bookended by a set of titles that come on-screen letting us know some facts about the tragedies that do actual occur in real life every day in the UK. To paraphrase, it basically lets us know that £4 billion is spent every year on social care for children and yet this has, and continues to, fail to break the cycle of abuse, addiction and abandonment. This mentality of telling us facts before and after would have been manipulative if it had been a work of entire fiction. But since Hell's Pavement is based on events true to life, it is an entirely effective technique; if this kind of thing really happens then by all means tell the audience.

The biggest chunk of the movie takes place when the little girl, Aimee (played by newcomer Keeki Bennets, making a wholly impressive debut), has been taken away from her unfit mother and placed into foster care. The welcoming husband and wife, who are no strangers to caring for children through the foster system, are at first anything but appealing to Aimee as her carers. But when she becomes accustomed to her new home (which is, in fact, only temporary – although she sadly probably doesn't realise that), she starts to warm up to them, realising that these two people only want to help her.

But it's the lapses back into feeling angry (not knowing why) and lashing out for seemingly no reason that really hits you with the emotional gut punch. Again, it's largely down to the fact the whole thing is based on truth that probably makes it so affecting. But it's also down to the performance from Bennets as the little girl, as well as subtle and likeable performances from Pauline McLynn (who some may know from the Irish comedy show Father Ted) and British TV actor Connor Byrne. It's key for the performances in a small, intimate drama like this to be believable and natural, and that's certainly the case with Hell's Pavement.

Director Andy Kemp (making his directorial debut, having movie experience up until now in the editing room) doesn't let the obvious low budget of the film affect any of the drama or affect it has. The filmmakers (Kemp, along with writers and producers) have revealed that they actually set-up their own company and then sold it to get a fair bit of the money for pay for it. And that, along with the fact they are involved with real life social care, reminds us that sometimes movies are not all about making money. This is clearly a film made to get a message out and raise awareness for a sad real life truth.

The only time Hell's Pavement falters from it's authenticity is also the only event depicted not based on something the filmmakers came across when dealing with foster care in their own lives. Not to give too much away (although this clearly isn't that type of movie where giving away plot points is going to waste the experience) but the film takes a dramatic, and really surprising, turning point in its plot that, although certainly upping the drama, is jarring to say the least. It's the only aspect of the film which sticks out as "that didn't need to be there".

Hell's Pavement is a low budget but nonetheless harrowing showcase of true-to-life events that instils anger at the fact that they actually happen. The most is made of the limited budget, and its simplistic nature allows for the message to be sent in a clear and concise way, all the while not coming off as preachy. Kudos to the filmmakers for actually going out and doing something to raise awareness about these real life tragedies, and what they've come up with is complex and powerful stuff.

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