(Screened at the Sundance Film Festival; U.S. release date TBD)
Dirty God is in the tradition of English “kitchen sink dramas” and dreary Mike Leigh films, a blunt, bleak story about a working-class person whose already miserable life is made worse by someone else’s cruelty. Jade (Vicky Knight), about 20 years old and the mother of a toddler, is recovering from a vicious attack by her ex-boyfriend that left her with burn scars on her face and torso. Her little girl is frightened by her now, so she stays with Jade’s mother, who’s a shoplifter. Everyone speaks in rough cockney accents and calls each other “c**t” a lot.
It’s not quite gratuitous misery porn — it’s ultimately more hopeful than that — but it’s adjacent to it. Director Sacha Polak, co-writing with Susie Farrell, focuses on Jade’s valiant and not-so-valiant efforts to rebuild her life and not let her injuries destroy her, but it’s hard not to get bogged down in the sadness of every damn detail. Vicky Knight, in her first credited film role, earns sympathy as Jade tries to improve her appearance with makeup, cheap plastic surgery, and even a burka, then turns heartbreaking when she debases herself with sleazy webcam sex, or when she’s the subjected to mockery by co-workers at the call center where she’s employed. She has a thing for her best friend’s boyfriend, who is happily unbothered by her scars (but is still someone else’s boyfriend). Knight’s naturalistic performance notwithstanding, it’s a hard movie to watch, and the rewards aren’t sufficient. The plot is thin, and these aren’t the sort of characters you want to just hang out with.