Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Review #1,065: 'Down Terrace' (2009)

Looking at the DVD cover of Down Terrace, you would be forgiven for dismissing it as yet another geezer-filled entry into the British crime genre, directed by somebody who watched Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) growing up and fancied themselves as capable of doing the same. Yet Ben Wheatley's debut feature goes out to do exactly the opposite, and instead of motor-mouthed crims with ridiculous nicknames and heists-gone-wrong, we get a kitchen-sink drama, at least for the first two-thirds, filmed almost entirely within the constraints of a run-of-the-mill house in Brighton.

After a stint in prison, Karl (Robin Hill, who co-wrote the script with Wheatley) returns to the family home with his father Bill (Robert Hill, Robin's real-life father) to try and sniff out the rat who is threatening to bring down their criminal organisation. With the help of mother Mags (Julia Deakin), they invite various associates, including idiot club owner Garvey (Tony Way), muscle Eric (David Schaal) and hitman Pringle (Michael Smiley), to their home in an attempt to suss them out. Karl is barely able to cope with the relentless criticism dished out by his father and his family's general dysfunction, and the atmosphere is made worse with the re-appearance of Valda (Kerry Peacock), an old flame now (apparently) pregnant with Karl's child.

Channelling the work of various British film-makers, including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows, Down Terrace attempts to draw you in slowly, creating an atmosphere of unease before unleashing its bloody final act. It should be a clever subversion of the genre, and in some ways it is, but this is hampered by a measured approach and a self-awareness, similar to the problems Sightseers (2012) had. There isn't a fault to be had with the performances, especially Robert Hill as the everyman crime boss with a slight aura of buffoonery about him. It's also very funny on occasion, and one of Wheatley's real strengths as a film-maker is luring you in with laughs while never allowing you to be completely comfortable. Ultimately, it's a distinctive test of endurance with flashes of brilliance, doing wonders with a micro-budget.

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Michael Smiley
Country: UK

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Down Terrace (2009) on IMDb

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