For those of you hoping this would be a sequel to the 1978 horror film ‘Piranhas’, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Whilst lacking the literal vicious fishes, the story instead centres on a pack of 15-year-old boys who would do anything for their friends, misled by the allure of wealth and notoriety.
Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli) is a 15-year-old boy living in Naples, Italy. He kills time by running amok around town with his friends. When allured by brand name clothes and access to €500-or-table access to a nightclub to impress girls, the boys begin selling weed around the city. However, they quickly fall further into the gang culture, and their criminal activities escalate. When Nicola decides to break out from under their boss, they claim his area of Sanità as their own turf, with their own naïve views on how things should be run. But what starts out as a bit of fun soon becomes deadly serious as guns, money and rival gangs take hold.
The format of the film gels together a typical three-act structure with a fly-on-the-wall observational drama. This permits a few unusual qualities - there’s a realism to the film which provides real stakes for our protagonists, whilst still enabling a cinematically spectacular style.
There’s also great attention to detail made to the characterisation of the boys; by concerning itself with class, consumerism and youth, the film brews these elements together into a powerful and potent snapshot of adolescence today. They’re teenagers, just boys, who cockily envelop themselves in a world they believe they’re ready for but don’t entirely understand. We witness their boy pack mentality go from immature, bad ideas to ‘Lord of the Flies’-style warfare. There’s no thought of consequence, of right or wrong, of the future, only of here and now.
Naples is captured on camera precisely the way I remember it: ancient, grimy and rough. Daytime is stark and desaturated, while night sees centuries-old stone buildings splashed with artificial yellow light. In stark contrast, we’re presented with garish Italian lavishness inside the gang leader’s homes, gold and glitz hidden from the eyes of the city. The film also features visually emblemic moments within the film. A sequence early on of the boys chanting semi-naked around a bonfire or learning to fire guns under the veil of fireworks is chilling. In contrast, one shot of three motorbikes riding tandem, hauling loads of red helium balloons against an almost monochrome city is striking, beautiful, and childlike.
They’re teenagers, just boys, who cockily envelop themselves in a world they believe they’re ready for but don’t entirely understand.
With the bulk of the cast 15-year-olds, many of ‘Piranha’s’ stars are featuring in their film debut - making the realistic quality of the film all the more impressive. Di Napoli is more than capable of carrying this film on his shoulders, presenting Nicola as an increasingly dark, matter-of-fact kid who tackles life’s issues nonchalantly as they present themselves. Pasquale Marotta is also impressive as Agustino, Nicola’s close friend, and offers one of the most thoughtful, contemplative performances from the gang.
Although these boys are on the cusp of manhood, ‘Piranhas’ still feels like you’re watching kids fighting in the sandpit, only someone has given them firearms. As the circular pattern of death and retribution become commonplace in their young lives, the idealistic views of control over their turf becomes increasingly murky, and thoughts of salvation turns to survival. It’s genuine enough to fear the consequences, but powerful enough to ensure the entertainment doesn’t wane. ‘Piranhas’ combines the folly of youth, the frailty of idealism, and the power of fate into a tale of brothers damned from the beginning.