DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Set out to make you miserable from the starting block, Fish Tank managed to make me feel elated, depressed, angry and above all impressed. It's just that good.
Bleak and distressing films, when done right, often provoke in me a sense of unease, a sense of awareness of bad things always lurking around the corner. I'm a fairly positive person, but am always weary when things are going well. I'm always on the look out, perhaps even waiting for things to go wrong. I'm fully aware that this is an unmistakable self fulfilling prophecy, but it's just something I carry with me and can't switch off.
To say that I connected to Mia, Fish Tank's amazing protagonist, is an understatement. Not to her living situation or what happens to her, but to her state of mind, her anger and her mistrust of 'good things'. Fish Tank's story proceeds with ease from one superbly acted scene to the next. We are given a bleak setting with an angry teenager living in a broken home. In a few quick strokes, without much dialogue, director Arnold paints a clear picture of just what world we are about to enter. Everything seems dire, when all of a sudden a tiny silver lining enters Mia's life (the ever excellent Fassbender). And here is where this film did a number on me.
See, the way I connected to Mia and shared her outlook on life meant I cared. Cared for her and hoped that the tiny positive thread that started to develop in her life would hold and be genuine, all the while still feeling that everlasting dread looming over our shoulders. The constant questioning look in Mia's eyes of 'is this real?' were heartbreaking to me. Especially as I knew for sure that this would not last.
The final hour actually made me flinch. Without revealing what actually happens, the scene where everything changes actually made me press pause. I felt extremely uncomfortable, as if watching a friend, your child or some other person you care about make an enormous mistake. The 50 minutes that follow are harrowing and gut wrenching in all the right ways.
Fish Tank is a small film with a big mouth. It has a lot to say about how tough and at the same time how fragile life can be and it does so staring you in the face unflinchingly. It deals with childhood, trust, family, love, friendship, passion in the most genuine way. And that's where the punch it packs gets its strength from.