Acid attacks have been on the rise in the UK over the last few years and ‘Dirty God’ might be the first feature film to look at the aftermath of such a horrific crime. Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak makes her English-language debut with this subtle but hard-hitting portrait of a young woman striving to find her identity after it has been violently stripped away from her.
Jade (Vicky Knight) is a young single mum adjusting back to life on her Hackney council estate after spending months in hospital recovering from an attack carried out by her ex. Everywhere she turns there are often hostile reminders that she is not the vivacious young woman she once was, whether it’s her daughter recoiling tearfully at the sight of her disfigured face or the taunts of strangers. As she struggles to find ways to feel like herself again, through online sexual encounters and making plans to have plastic surgery abroad, she begins to accept the reality of this new life and not let old expectations hold her back.
Polak follows in the footsteps of directors Andrea Arnold (‘Fish Tank’) and Benh Zeitlin (‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’) by drawing out a brilliantly nuanced performance from first-time-actor Knight, a burn victim herself. Knight has mined her own traumatic experience to bring emotional depth to the character, and this extra layer of authenticity gives the film its impact. If the other characters pale slightly by comparison, ‘Dirty God’ is still a grounded story of human resilience that can’t help but move you.