Boy in the Corner (2022)

Boy in the Corner, 2022.

Directed by Joshy Lee.
Starring Cyran Vergara, Victoria Shepherd, Akil Largie, Shaun Pelayo, Solly McLeod, Ewan Perry, Luka Arpino Pereira, and Jon-Paul Gates.


The backward system of society pushes another dream-filled boy to the curb, and with his aspiration suppressed, he is at risk of falling into the attractive arms of gang life.

It’s been a year of great escapist movies and gripping horror films. We’ve had social satire and some wry observations on gender, sexuality, classism and race. Sometimes those underpinning themes are a bit forced or on the nose and occasionally at the expense of the primary narrative. All told a terrific year though. What we haven’t had so much of, is a bit of neo-realism. Real, prescient social commentary.

That’s where Boy in the Corner comes in. It turns out that another year without a Ken Loach treatise on working-class life under Tory regime, has left a bit of a gap and young director Joshy Lee, co-writing with producer Luciano D’Amato, has stepped in to tell a fictional story burning with authenticity.

Myles (Cyran Vergara) lives with his mum and sister. Life is tough as she works long hours, struggles to feed everyone, pay the bills and get close to a son who is struggling at school. Myles finds escape with his best friends and they wile away time eating sweets, playing basketball or overlooking their home town. Those struggles (the hunger and aspirations that he already feels are beyond him), make Myles a vulnerable target when a local gang begin to groom him.

Shot on a low budget, this Gloucester-based production ably sidesteps the pitfalls of low-budget production with a highly polished and well-presented film. From the off, it’s noticeably eye-catching with a full frame aspect ratio and black and white photography. It creates a confined space, with a number of intimate close-ups and some lingering but unobtrusive (almost voyeuristic) shots. It’s beautifully lensed, impeccably thought out and planned by Lee and captured by cinematographer Tamas Apor Meder. Lee knows when to hold back and when to get up close and on editing duty, in addition, he lets sequences breathe beautifully with long takes (and again, unobtrusive shots).

The film has shades of Loach (perhaps earlier Loach) and early Meadows (and arguably more tonally consistent). The box frame and black and white also bring to mind American History X. This never goes as lethally brutal as American History X or This is England as an example, opting for a tale with some hope for redemption/intervention. Nor does it smash its messages over your head like some of Loach’s latter works.

Look, it’s inescapable, life in Tory Britain is horrific for those on the breadline, and financial struggles are imposing themselves on the middle classes now, giving even less hope to single parents and similarly struggling demographics. What Boy in the Corner retains at its core though, is an engaging coming-of-age story set against difficult circumstances. Myles is still treated as a character and given an arc, with a film that feels cinematic.

To huge credit, so much here is shown and not just told (even the mighty Loach has a tendency of late to soapbox his characters and tell, tell, tell). Nice touches include subtle hints that Myles’ friends pay for his treats out of kindness and it shows a little later, when he comes into money (from the local gang member grooming him) that his first thought is to repay them in kind. Myles tries not to show it, but he can’t help but feel ashamed.

The cast is tremendous. Victoria Shepherd does a great job as Myles’ struggling and guilt-ridden mother. She begins to neglect the kids in search of a little personal happiness when she moves her boyfriend (Jon-Paul Gates who becomes effectively horrible) into the house. Shaun Pelayo is superb as Jaime, the gang leader who takes Myles under his wing. He’s charismatic as he slowly indoctrinates the youngster, and suitably menacing once he turns aggressive when he’s required to put Myles under no illusions of their relationship. It comes not long after a point that you’re almost beginning to find the character likeable. That inescapable flip is well handled. Akil Largie plays D’Verne, the social worker assigned to help Myles deal with his issues. Another standout performer in a role that needed gravitas. He delivers with aplomb.

Then at the centre, so much of the film rests on the young shoulders of Cyran Vergara. It’s a risk to have young characters and actors, as the weight of a film is a burden, but Vergara handles it fantastically. It’s a phenomenal performance that’s raw and honest. He’s got the rare gift of being expressive in stillness. Those struggles are worn on his face, as are those rare moments of happiness when playing with his friends, or in the burgeoning and romantic stages of gang life.

With great performances, stunning photography, a beautifully melancholic score and an engaging and timely script, Boy in the Corner marks a very promising feature debut for Joshy Lee. Likewise, its prescience is clear, at a time when knife crime is still rife in parts of the UK, and has faded from media coverage. The film needs to be seen as it speaks about real issues facing impressionable kids, almost exclusively from impoverished backgrounds. The themes never come at the expense of what is a compelling, moving, and sometimes gripping story.  Genuinely, one of the best films of the year and a real surprise punch.

Boy in the Corner is available to rent or buy now on VOD & digital download, including Sky Store, Apple TV/iTunes, Google Play, Prime Video, Microsoft TV/XBOX, Bohemia Euphoria and more.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Tom Jolliffe


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