Reviews - Down Terrace
Reviewed By John Stakes
British film-making seems to centre on but three aspects of our rich and varied social and cultural life: historical costume dramas; Mike Leigh and Ken Loach slices of domestic strife amongst disadvantaged city dwellers; and a seemingly endless number of lock, stock and “blokey” east end gangland flicks. So it was with somewhat weary and resigned trepidation that this reviewer approached the latest outing for the British gangster genre.
Shot with hand held cameras and filmed largely in the Hill parental home in Down Terrace Brighton, this minimally resourced movie proved to be a genuine tonic and a literal and metaphoric shot in the arm. Real-life father and son Robert and Robin Hall took the lead roles as father Bill and son Karl, two drug dealing thugs celebrating their surprise acquittal by consuming some of the stocks of drugs they deal in somewhere in the back streets of Brighton and ruminating over guitar playing sessions as to who might have grassed them up. The details of their nefarious business activities and the
source of their disquiet are kept deliberately vague.
They could have been the Royle family as they sat around talking domestic trivia save that the dialogue was an affecting baroque style penned by Robin Hill which was consistently funny. The two things they had which distinguished them from any other drab and ordinary family were a handy arsenal of weaponry and a penchant for killing people they did not trust which happened to be everyone around them.
“A man is as good as his friends” intoned Dad philosophically, which begged a big question if you don’t have any friends or those you think you do have choose to stitch you up. Paranoia sets in early so the body count quickly escalated, the mayhem being signalled by the presence of copious amounts of handy plastic sheeting so as not to make a mess you understand. Treachery came hand in glove with apparent genuine affection so a deliciously unsettling tone was established and maintained.
The dispatching of the victims was quite graphic, made doubly shocking by the uninterrupted domestic banter which accompanied it without even the merest flicker, let alone the bat, of a concerned eyelid. The soundtrack music of blues and folk cleverly underlined the homespun urban murderous hillbilly tone. This was black comedy in its purest form.
As the family imploded mother Maggie assumed Lady Macbeth’s mantle to husband Bill, both being finally dispatched by Karl (their only son) and his pregnant girlfriend. Karl’s motivation for the slaughter of his parents was to rid himself of his father’s constant criticism of him and his desire to lead an ordinary life and become a responsible parent no less, but this was not the type of film where the relative merits of leaving home would be ventilated.
There was a kind of Ken Loach meets the Sopranos feel about the whole shenanigans laced with some David Lynch which held our attention and infused the narrative with just enough plausibility to suspend our disbelief that no-one else was around to witness any of the casual slaughter or report suspicious behaviour.
Indeed had the police intervened the film would have immediately lost its bizarre but compellingly atmospheric edge. The ensemble acting was solid and reliable and at home with the quirky script.
Wheatley managed to infuse his film with a nightmarish quality within a humdrum domestic setting which is no mean feat particularly as he avoided the use of any artificial props and relied on a basic lighting plot, so it will be interesting to see how he fares with his recently completed second full-length feature, a horror film “Kill List”. He is clearly a talent to be watched. There are several successful directors whose careers were grounded in the world of advertising and Wheatley may just be another Ridley Scott in the making.
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