So a few days ago, at time of writing, I was provided with a screener for Small Town Hero to review. Now, I hadn’t heard of the film before, but having seen the trailer after being given the offer, I decided to accept the screener and give it a look. After watching the film, I’m glad I did. This is a great little docudrama, buoyed by an incredible central performance.
The film takes the form of a documentary about Pep, a man who has become a local celebrity in his home town after stopping an act of vandalism from being perpetrated. Buoyed by the attention he receives and the thrill stopping the vandalism gave him, Pep joins the local Neighbourhood Watch and roams the streets of the town to stop other acts of vandalism. However, the growing level of violence Pep uses ends up making people afraid of him, bringing in questions of whether what Pep is doing is right. Now what works well about the film is how it depicts the growing level of violence Pep uses. His actions start out as self defence, and in some instances there’s some humour in his actions, such as using stickers to shame people who park badly, with Pep having a sense of pride in what he does and wanting to pass that pride onto others. As the film goes on though we see Pep’s true nature shine through his more violent actions, raising the question of whether what Pep is doing is justified and whether his actions are causing more harm than the actions he’s trying to prevent. This is where the documentary style presentation of the film comes in. Whilst I think more could have been done regarding the nature of passivity in documentaries, the format allows us to see the changing viewpoint of the town in a way that a more traditional format would not have allowed. The Vox Pops in the film and the way the people interviewed change their minds about Pep shows a sense of fear growing in the population and brings in the question of whether vigilantism is justified. At some points, Pep compares himself to Batman to justify what he’s doing, showing how vigilantism is accepted in principle, but the reality of what it involves scares people when they see it up close, fearing that any small action they do could set of Pep. The strength of the film in this regard is that it doesn’t give any clear answers over whether Pep is doing the right thing, showing the good and bad he’s doing at first and letting the audience make up their mind over whether Pep is right, along with showing how good intentions can spiral out of control.
There’s also an interesting look at the paranoia that can be seen in communities. In the second half of the film, rumours about a paedophile living in the town start to spread, with a few new residents being targeted as the suspect. The film makes the right call in not revealing whether the rumours are true, allowing the paranoia to be the central element. This gives this section of the film a great deal of intensity, waiting for Pep to reach his boiling point and showing how the idea of danger being faced is just as, if not more, damaging than any actual actions.
The main draw of the film though is the central performance from Simon Cassidy as Pep. There’s this anger that Cassidy brings to Pep that lets you know how he has come to decide vigilantism is the right course of action, with Pep giving several rants in the film, ranging from rants over cinema etiquette to rants on society as a whole. Cassidy shows that Pep is a prejudiced person, allowing his preconceptions of people to take him over, never stopping to consider those he’s lashing out at as actual people. There’s also a more tender side Cassidy brings to Pep through his relationship with his son. We see that Pep is trying to be a good dad, but he’s unable to stop his son from seeing him at his worst (in some instances Pep thinking that he’s actually doing the right thing in the moment), and the relationship Pep has with his ex, played by Millie Reeves, shows off the worst aspects of both people and the damage caused by Pep’s paranoia. There’s also this sense of ego Cassidy brings to Pep, showing him go from someone who does his vigilantism out of a sense of responsibility, to doing it out of ego, reacting badly to when someone else is given praise for taking action themselves to stop a crime, showing that Pep is buoyed by the desire for fame and attention for his actions.
Overall, Small Town Hero is a powerful look at the nature of vigilantism, buoyed by an incredible central performance from Simon Cassidy. It offers a strong look into the damage caused by paranoia and whether any act of vigilantism is justified, along with the personal issues that are at play in vigilantism, with this aspect expertly played by Cassidy. Whilst I think more could have been done with the documentary format, this is still an excellent, tense film and a strong example of British indie film.
My Rating: 4.5/5