The murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution in 2000 is the harrowing subject of British director Antony Petrou's We Are Monster (2014), a clumsy and facile character study into his killer, Robert Stewart; an apparently well-researched drama that feels more like a hopeless shot in the dark at reaching the inner psyche of a killer. Stewart was a known racist, mentally unstable and violent (with an RIP tattoo on his forehead), but after institutional failures was put in the same cell as the British Asian. Six weeks later, Mubarek was dead, bludgeoned to death with a wooden table leg hours before his intended release. All in all, it took six years for the victim's relatives to get answers.
Written by its star, Alexander wildly mishandles his protagonist. He portrays Steward as a schizophrenic haunted by an aggressive out-of-body vision of himself, goading him into violence. Where this vision comes from is anybody's guess. Even aided by some coolly crafted images by DoP Simon Richards, its direction by second-timer Petrou is suspect - the way Stewart's mental instability is handled and portrayed is all bulging eyes and wild tempers. It should be disturbing but feels straight out of pantomime. Alexander surely seeks to articulate the origins of Stewart's disturbed mindset, but rather than establish the environment of the time - only a few years after Stephen Lawrence's murder - he wades through a laboured back story of an abusive father whose violence happens to coincide with racist episodes. Writing about a subject as sensitive as this requires great skill. Sadly, a skilful hand is just what We Are Monster lacks.
Ed Frankl | @Ed_Frankl