With titles such as Pitbull and Mafia Women, violent Polish-language thrillers are proving a cult success – some even denting the UK top 10. But can they win over mainstream audiences?

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It is a late Saturday afternoon in Walthamstow, north-east London, and business is slow at the Empire cinema, as it usually is on hot days. Nevertheless, 13 people have chosen a brutal thriller over an extra few hours in the sun. Pitbull: Last Dog, which opened the previous weekend on 279 screens, will have escaped the attention of most cinemagoers. It’s certainly more stomach-churning than the average multiplex fare. One woman has her throat slashed in the first five minutes; another is placed under a carpet and then beaten violently with belts by a gang of thugs. A dead man is shot in the mouth at point-blank range, while a gangster pouring acid on a corpse tells his cohort charmingly: “If you make it without puking, I’ll buy you a whore.”

Pitbull: Ostatni pies (Pitbull: Last Dog is the latest in a run of films to have dented the UK box office top 10 despite being marketed exclusively at the Polish community. (At the time of writing it has taken around £340,000.) This year has already brought one hit, Kobiety mafii (Mafia Women), which took almost £900,000 in the UK and Ireland. Last year, the grisly 18-rated medical drama Botoks amassed £1.06m, making it not only the third highest-grossing foreign-language release of 2017 (after Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden and the Bollywood hit Raees) but the most successful Polish film ever in the UK.

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