Set in a neighbourhood of Alexandria called El Labban, El Shouq revolves around a poor family headed by the matriarch, Fatma (Badr). When the only son in the family – and the youngest of her three children – falls suddenly ill, Fatma is left with no choice but to go out and collect money by any means possible, leaving her husband and three children behind.

After a number of failed attempts, Fatma refuses to return home; knowing that she’s a failure to herself and her dying son, so she ends up going to Cairo to try to find any kind of work. When that also turns out to be unsuccessful, she accidentally starts begging for money. Surprisingly, Fatma discovers that this is the easiest and quickest way to raise the money for her sick child. Without anyone knowing of course, she keeps begging until she collects enough to go back home with.

Back home, she arrives too late and her sick son has died. Shocked, she deals with his death by become obsessive and overprotective of her two daughters – played by Ruby and her real-life sister Merihan. Fatma decides to go back to Cairo to beg on the streets, claiming the money is for her dying son, even though he’s already dead. This life of begging becomes a routine, although she keeps saving her money in hope that one day she can take her family out of the poor area filled with corruption and crime.

Originally based on a play, The Old Lady’s Visit, the story suffers when made into a film. El Shouq’s plot is full of closed doors; there are no solutions to the conflicts, no positive elements. Certain scenes are unnecessarily prolonged: if the son will eventually die, then why not conclude this small detail in five to ten minutes instead of a whole 45 minutes of watching a child aching in pain with his family surrounding him doing nothing? When Fatma gets the 300LE needed for her dying son and returns home, audiences are somewhat relieved after sharing the painful boredom for almost half the film, only to find out it’s no use with the sudden plot twist of his death. This caused people to lose interest, get frustrated, and some literally walked out of the film.

Unexpectedly, the cast actually delivers despite a terrible script and poor direction. Badr’s performance is the highlight of the film. Her transition from a poor and unstable mother into an addicted beggar is truly creepy and powerful. Ruby and Merihan also give acceptable performances as the sisters who dream of getting married and having a home of their own, nothing more – nothing less!

Badr’s performance is still not nearly enough for El Shouq to be a recommendation for anyone. It’s dreadfully dark from start to finish, gets you down, keeps you there, and gives the viewer nothing to look forward to. Even the victims in the Saw sequels had a chance of getting out.