Shan Khan tackles the incendiary topic of honour killings in the UK with his stylish, if melodramatic, feature film debut. Paddy Considine heads the cast in this tale of a young girl on the run…
The world is a nasty place. That is according to Honour from first-time feature film director Shan Khan. This fittingly bleak look at an increasingly prominent shadow afflicting some British-Asian families is suitably pertinent but hindered by the generic trappings of its conventional simplicity. In other words, an incendiary subject gets an unnecessarily melodramatic makeover.
Fanatical familial loyalties, seemingly underpinned by an archaic, often barbaric interpretation of religious or cultural tradition, have led to some horrendous real life acts of violence and murder in the name of “honour” across the world. In his film, Khan focuses on a British Muslim family of Pakistani origin whose matriarch (Harvey Virdi) orders her two sons to defend the family name after daughter Mona (Aiysha Hart) gets into an “unsanctioned” relationship with a man. The narrative switches back and forth in time to tell the “before and after”, culminating in Mona going on the run, pursued by Paddy Considine’s National Front-sympathising bounty hunter.
Honour is an appealing if straightforward thriller, which manages to sustain a level of heightened tension both in its time-jump first act, and more conventionally narrated final third. But it gets stuck between the possibilities of social-realist drama and a less subtle revenge motif. Khan favours the latter which results in the actions of the family feeling more caricature than characteristic. Admittedly, Virdi, callous through inaction, is a memorable “Don”, a passively sadistic mother who thinks little of murdering her own daughter over blotting the family name. Yet, at the same time, her villainous posturing is overcooked, a criticism that could be levelled at eldest son Kasim (Faraz Ayub) whose DIY killer plays “copper” by day and religious fanatic by night. As an underlining of the stakes being heightened it’s throwaway stuff within the confines of genre cinema, but through it Honour treads too heavily on fragile ground.
There are few grey lines in this tale of revenge and survival, even the actions of Considine’s reformed far right fanatic feel trite. It’s the fitting of these pieces to mould the film’s generic pretence that diminishes its ambition. Yet, despite this, and a bloated finale, Honour manages to enforce a vice-like grip thanks to its provocative, deeply unsettling atmosphere.
Much of its success comes in the form of David Higgs’ work as director of photography. This talented cinematographer gives the film a refined look, adding a distinctly expensive allure to what is a low budget independent production. He complements Khan’s dramatic notes with a confident eye for detail. For example, Higgs beautifully unbalances tone through the warm glow of a family home as it stages a vicious honour killing or paints a London night as a threatening neon-lit urban jungle. The film also boast Khan’s sprightly pace, an enigmatic presentation of events that switches between both time and character perspective, and the strength of Hart’s emotionally fractured performance as Mona.