Grim and at times unsettling, 'Fish Tank' has attitude in abundance. It's thought-provoking and a bit too real for comfort.
Mia (Jarvis) has a sharp tongue, a fighting spirit and a will that can't be harnessed. She'd be serious trouble except in her world all of these attributes are just survival instincts. You lash out and people know not to mess with you. You don't let anyone get too close and no-one can break you. It's all about keeping your head above water.
She lives in a council flat (outside London) with her foul-mouthed, fond-of-a-drink mother (Wareing) and feisty little sister Sophie (Collins). She spends her days headbutting people, shouting her mouth off and generally giving cause for the filing of police reports. But she has an out, or so she likes to think. She loves to dance, fancies that she's quite good at choreography and uses it as a way to forget the problems of her world (well, that and a couple of bottles of cider!). She goes from a messy environment at home to nasty encounters on the street and there's never really any sense of love or stability in her life when we first meet her.
Things are very rough until the arrival of her mother's new toyboy Conor (Fassbender), a man who seems too good to be hanging around their council flat, taking the girls for day trips and causing their mother to smile, and even pretend to be nice to them. Fast-becoming the father-figure to Mia and Sophie, Conor seems too good to be true, and turns out he is.
What follows really explores the depth of human needs, how we crave acceptance, attention and loyalty. Some elements are heartbreaking, some are disturbing and some are just strangely compelling to watch, mostly due to the performances of newcomer Katie Jarvis, as the 'wash-your-mouth-out' tearaway, and Michael Fassbender, as the man who cares too much.
'Fish Tank' is probably most unsettling in its reality. It's very obviously a depiction of stuff that happens every day, in this and other communities. At times, particularly towards the end of the movie, a sense of the uncomfortable takes over and makes 'Fish Tank' one of those important social movies that you want to end before you're left with that horrible lingering feeling in the pit of your stomach. Wisely, it does end before that point.
The trouble with this movie though is that, unlike with director/writer Andrea Arnold's previous, and also very grim, film 'Red Road', there is no real sense of proper hope here. The moral inadequacies of one generation are passed on to the next, who squander whatever hopes they have of making a different way for themselves in the world, leading to the inevitable vicious circle syndrome.
And, while it's often compelling to watch, the foreboding sense of dread and dejection that the difficult subject matters carry with them leave a lasting impression of bitterness, for both the characters and the viewer.