By Don Simpson | October 14, 2010
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Robin Hill, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Bob Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, Sara Dee, Mark Kempner, Kali Peacock, Kerry Peacock, David Schaal, Michael Smiley, Gareth Tunley, Tony Way
Karl’s (Robin Hill) mother, Maggie (Julia Deakin), and father, Bill (Robert Hill), run a crime syndicate in Brighton, England. (Apparently, Bill is a middleman of sorts between the big wigs in London and the small time crooks in Brighton.) This not-so-average middle-class family has issues on a normal day — Karl has severe anger management issues and throws tantrums that would make a 2-year old blush, Bill is overtly patronizing and condescending, and Maggie is the queen of passive-aggressiveness — so when the additional stresses of a possible snitch and an unplanned baby are added to the mix, their already fiery personalities begin to combust.
Down Terrace commences as Karl and Bill return home after a frustrating court case involving Karl. We are never given any specifics about the trial but Karl and Bill seem certain that one of their cronies must have ratted Karl out. Before any additional information can be leaked, the usual suspects are called to their house in the guise of celebrating Karl’s release. Over the course of two weeks, the parade of visitors partake in mass quantities of booze, marijuana, Alka-Seltzer and tea…lots and lots of tea. Apparently this family cannot do anything without a warm cuppa [tea] in their hand. (The Kinks’ “Have a Cuppa Tea” kept popping into my mind.) All the while, Karl and his parents’ paranoia festers uncontrollably.
Karl’s 27-year old girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock) shows up at their house pregnant with — at least according to Valda — Karl’s baby. Bill and Maggie do not trust Valda, but Karl does. This creates a tremendous rift between the 34-year old son and his parents.
The relentless domestic bickering during the first half of the film quickly switches gears in the second half; the mood darkens and things turn brutally violent. As the body count skyrockets an absurdest humor takes control — like when Bill’s trusted hit-man, Pringle (Michael Smiley), brings his toddler (Kitty Blue) along for a job. Things spiral so far out of control that it is very easy to assume that the film will conclude with no survivors.
The heavily improvised script (penned by Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill) is delivered quite naturally — almost to a fault (the actors’ propensity for mumbling and swallowing their lines may prompt many Americans to cry for subtitles) — and is chock-full of ultra-dry humor. Laurie Rose’s manic pseudo-documentary handheld cinematography, filmed almost entirely in Robin Hill’s childhood family home, adds to the brutally hyper-realistic kitchen sink milieu. (Also note that Bill is played by Robin Hill’s real-life father and Valda is played by Robin Hill’s wife.)
This ultra-low-budget film — shot in a mere eight days — is like a Martin Scorsese crime flick injected with the Coen Brothers’ dark humor as directed by Mike Leigh. Cast primarily with non-actors, director Wheatley’s cinematic debut does suffer at times from some inconsistent characterizations; but otherwise Down Terrace is a refreshingly novel take on the British crime genre.