Film reviews

Manchester Film Festival: Silk Road

From Easy Rider to the Scarface remake, from Nil by Mouth to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and from any Cheech & Chong film to The Wolf of Wall Street, drugs have been presented in a variation of positive and negative ways in both mainstream and independent cinema. Mark de Cloe’s made-for-TV (in the Netherlands) Silk Road presents young adults in a new and contemporary drug trade, but with some familiar filmic conventions.

Silk Road starts with Daphne (Prince’s Olivia Lonsdale), as almost streetwise, but small-time computer hacker, who manages to hack her neighbour’s computer to install a game. Daphne’s neighbour, Raymond (4Jim’s Gijs Blom) is a hacker too, and invites her round to his house… Once it is revealed to Daphne that Raymond is a hacker, but on a much bigger scale, she becomes wary, however, he offers her a risky proposition of which could change her life if she chooses to accept it.

Daphne is tasked with what appears to be a conventional drug deal – she exits Raymond’s van to enter what looks like conventional student accommodation with a package to exchange for another package. Daphne is explicitly instructed not to reveal her details to the exchanger or hang around. The exchanger, Sem (The Dinner’s Jonas Smulders), is immediately fascinated by Daphne’s presence, thus he offers her an alcoholic drink, but she demands that the exchange takes place and she leaves. After the exchange has taken place, Raymond is not waiting outside in his creepy white van, so Daphne takes it upon herself to observe the contents of her new package: a USB device. It was a test…

For passing Raymond’s test with his “business partner”, Sem, Daphne is introduced to what their business exactly is via the contents of the USB device. The USB device contains a setup for Silk Road – one of the darkest realms of the infamous Dark Web. Silk Road in Silk Road (and when it existed in the real world) is/was Amazon for rogues. Featuring an illegal marketplace selling the likes of unconventional illegal drugs and assassinations (yes, really), Silk Road is nothing but trouble, but the promised land for three misfit 20-something year-olds looking to delve between what Daphne, during the opening narration, describes as a world separated from the following two worlds: the consumerist/sheep world and a world for those who benefit from capitalism.

Once the authorities begin to infiltrate Daphne & co’s Silk Road operations, the seriousness of Silk Road is legitimised. However, after narrowly escaping the authorities, Daphne & co invest in a high-rise penthouse show in a party sequence that instantly draws parallels with the “Push It to the Limit” montage in the Scarface remake. The highlife is not all that it seems, however, as tensions are inevitably developed between Raymond and Sem over the business they championed and the girl they both loved – though Daphne wants Raymond, not Sem. Can they survive this bizarre love triangle alongside the looming dangers presented by both the darkest pathways of Silk Road and the authority’s quest to end cybercrime?

Silk Road centralises its three characters – Daphne, Raymond and Sem – all very differently, to which is a great viewing pleasure because it means that “no two characters are the same” as the saying goes. The truth: Daphne draws a partial sympathy; Raymond is an ar*ehole; and Sem is a borderline pervert. Arguably, the trio of individuals are quite unlikeable.

What would a drug-dealer-related film be without twists and turns, hey? Silk Road boats terrific twists and turns in its third act, though surprisingly, select twists and turns were not expected to occur. As a drug film that is a crime film, rather than a social realism piece, Silk Road fails to establish a high quality authority presentation and traditional good vs. bad setup between said authority and Daphne & co.

Additionally, the sub-story of romance is rather flat, because there is no growing evidence of Daphne falling in love with Raymond. Ironically and unfortunately, there is more development in Sem’s perverse fondness of Daphne. Silk Road’s viewer has more of an emotional response to Sem’s weird fondling of Daphne’s hair, shoulder and back than any romance between Daphne and Raymond, thus why should the audience care if the latter end up together as a couple?

During the Silk Road’s post-premiere Q&A with director, Mark de Cloe, there was suddenly an air of surprise and confusion when de Cloe revealed that Silk Road is indeed a TV-Movie – surprise in that the production values exceed what is traditionally expected for a TV-movie, whilst the confusion was as to why a TV-Movie was exhibited in what was assumed to be a film festival featuring feature-length films within the made-for-cinema (theatrical) category only. Nonetheless Silk Road was a welcomed addition to MANIFF2018!

Depending on your stances regarding drugs and the selling of drugs, Silk Road could very well offend you, not just regarding the explicitly of drugs, but because the drugs dealers are the heroes of Silk Road and are covered in positivity, thus if anything, the act of contemporary digital drug dealing is glorified in Silk Road.

Ultimately, Silk Road is a good drug film, but an underwhelming crime film. There is an overwhelming refreshing aspect, however, in Silk Road that young adults are presented as the drug dealers, and it is both contemporary and relevant with the Dark Web and Bit Coin elements. We have all seen the drug-money exchanges in cars ad alleyways in both film and real life, but for the drug trade to be done digitally in film is the equivalent to a new discovery, though in real life, individuals are steadily becoming knowledgeable of it.

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