May 6, 2020 4:06 PM EDT

Few things are more tragic than seeing young people go to war on the streets, over streets. In his debut film Blue Story, the U.K. musical artist Rapman—whose given name is Andrew Onwubolu—explores the gang-violence dynamic by zeroing in on two teenagers growing up in South London: Timmy (Stephen Odubola) lives in Lewisham but goes to school in Peckham, a decision his mother made for him years earlier, hoping to keep him away from the toughs in his own neighborhood. His best friend is Marco (Micheal Ward), a Peckham local whose older brother is involved in the “postcode” wars, but who hasn’t yet acquired any veneer of toughness. Mostly, the two just hang out with their friends, going to parties in the hopes of meeting girls: Timmy has his eye on Leah (Karla-Simone Spence), and their courtship, when he finally makes it happen, involves inviting her over to his house to watch Game of Thrones.

But an accidental killing turns Marco and Timmy against each other, drawing them into a web of futile, and ultimately fatal, clashes. Blue Story, at its essence, is a narrative you’ve seen before. But Onwubolu vests it with firecracker energy—the pace never drags, even when you think you know what’s going to happen next.

Plus, casting appealing actors can make all the difference: Odubola and Spence carry the movie ably as they spin their own innocent, Romeo-and-Juliet subplot. Spence’s Leah is a feisty charmer, and watching her lay the groundwork so Timmy can make the first move is a reminder of how male-female awkwardness has endured through the ages: their early, tentative courtship is soda-shop sweet. But Timmy’s youthful openness is short-lived, and Odubola almost looks like a different actor in the movie’s later scenes, his face as closed off as a mask of iron. When he and Marco come face-to-raging-face, the air around them stings like an acidic vapor. Blue Story ends on a note of hope, but not before stressing how useless it is for young men to fight over scraps of land they don’t even own. Defending their turf, they succeed only in choking off the road to their own future.

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