Indie drama Wait For Me is a slow-burning grimfest

Karen Hassan as Alison
Karen Hassan as Alison

WAIT FOR ME (15, 90 mins) Drama. Starring: Karen Hassan, Aaron Cobham, Sean McGinley, Neil Bell, Rebecca Atkinson, Theo Ogundipe, Izobella Dawson

Director: Keith Farrell

Released: May 27

WAIT For Me takes some watching. Keith Farrell's relentlessly grim north of England-set indie drama is a massive downer from its very first scene, in which sex worker Alison (Karen Hassan) discusses a potentially painful request from a client with shabby caravan dweller Ger (Sean McGinley).

Alison expresses reluctance to go through with the act, but Ger gradually talks her round with a 'think of the money' spiel and even some wince-inducing practical advice. Initially, this seems like a discussion between a prostitute and her pimp – then a throwaway line reveals it to be a father-daughter exchange.

Welcome to Wait For Me, a low-budget slow-burner which feels very much like it was written to accommodate some kind of sadistic 'misery checklist': it's not hard to imagine screenwriter Bernard O'Toole (Let it Be, Pals for Life) referring to a big whiteboard scrawled with 'DRUG ADDICTION', 'MENTAL ILLNESS', 'PEOPLE TRAFFICKING', 'INCEST', 'PAEDOPHILIA' etc as he beavered away on this story of how Alison attempts to break free from the criminals who are exploiting her, with the help of an unlikely ally – mild-mannered photography enthusiast, Sam (Aaron Cobham) – who's also found himself under the grimy thumb of local sleaze lord Max (Neil Bell) and his merciless muscle, Barry (Theo Ogundipe).

Aaron Cobham as Sam
Aaron Cobham as Sam

The film is at its best when it focuses on Sam and Alison, an old-fashioned movie 'odd couple' whose individual quirks – his honesty and shyness as a result of near-crippling bouts of OCD, her self-reliance-honed hardness and frustrated maternal instincts – end up making them a good team as they try to go on the lam together.

Cobham has a challenge on his hands in portraying a character who has become a professional 'observer' in life with the aid of his beloved vintage cameras, and is essentially non-verbal for large stretches of the film. However, he copes admirably, conveying a lot of emotion and inner turmoil via facial expressions and body language – anything about Sam which jars slightly surely comes from the writing, not the acting.

For example, Sam also has another connection to Alison, via his partner Lisa (Rebecca Atkinson), a relationship which plays out via flashback. This device culminates in a 'big reveal' which feels a little bit too contrived, and it's not the only time Wait For Me trips over its own eagerness to tie up various story threads with a neatness contrary to its determinedly gritty 'realist' intentions.

As Max, the film's resident 'Mr Big', Neil Bell (Dead Man's Shoes, Peaky Blinders, Dune) does his best to imbue a rather thinly-written villain with gravitas, menace and a hint of vulnerability as required by the script – 'Chekov's angina', anyone? – but it's a largely thankless task. Theo Ogundipe (Top Boy, EastEnders) fares better as Max's enforcer, the ice-cold Barry, playing this blunt tool of coercion with an amused detachment that feels authentically predatory.

Izobella Dawson and Karen Hassan in Wait For Me
Izobella Dawson and Karen Hassan in Wait For Me

Belfast-born actor Karen Hassan (The Fall, Hope Street, High-Rise) imbues tough-nut Alison with an underlying tenderness which eventually comes to the fore in scenes featuring her estranged family, but she builds and conveys the rougher, rawer side of her character successfully too. Thus, the inevitable showdowns with Max and her absolute slug of a father (a gift for seasoned screen scumbag Sean McGinley) feel earned – even if some of the story specifics relating to both don't quite stack up.

Wait For Me may be a grim grind that feels a lot longer than its superficially 'tight' 90-minute run-time, and the frustratingly nonsensical ending will surely leave you scratching your head, but there are decent performances to enjoy too.

Worth seeing, but have a hot shower and a good comedy lined up for afterwards.

Rating: 2/5

:: Wait For me has its Irish premiere at QFT Belfast on Saturday May 27 at 6.15pm, followed by a Q&A with star Karen Hassan, director Keith Farrell and producer Thea Burrows. Tickets via queensfilmtheatre.com