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  Down Terrace Death In The Family
Year: 2009
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Kerry Peacock, Tony Way, Mark Kempner, Michael Smiley, Gareth Tunley
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Small time crooks Karl (Robin Hill) and his father Bill (Robert Hill) have just been acquitted at their trial, but they're not happy. In the taxi on the way home, they both brood over who it could have been who got them into this situation in the first place, as they're convinced someone they know has informed on them, but are having trouble working out who it could have been. They reach home, and Karl's mum Maggie (Julia Deakin) puts on some tea for them, but they're not quite as happy to see Garvey (Tony Way), who has been keeping their drugs deals going while they've been having their legal problems...

But is it Garvey who informed on them, or someone else? The suspects mount up, but don't expect a clear answer to that conundrum in Down Terrace, which sounded as if it was going to be yet another guns and geezers Brit gangster effort, yet took a very different tack to almost anything else in this style. Director Ben Wheatley, making his big screen debut after working in television, and co-writer and star Robin Hill stressed the mundanity of this family's world, about as far from the flash of a Guy Ritchie movie as you could get. And yet it had such a texture of paranoia that it staked out territory of its own.

Mike Leigh and Ken Loach were mentioned when describing the film, but actually what this resembled - and bear with me here - was as if Philip K. Dick had penned his own version of an English kitchen sink drama, so you got the mind altering drugs, the mindbending suspicion that all was not right, and reality called into question by the end, only all in a prosaic and low key fashion. The cast all kept it almost documentary style, with nobody going all out for big laughs, although this could be viewed as a comedy and there are some very funny moments, but the overall grey appearance and everyday milieu meant we were not laughing with these characters as might have been the case in other hands.

Besides, by the end there's nobody here who has done very much that is laudable, not out of the main characters at any rate. For the first half, the story burbles away as the tensions simmer but nobody does very much about them. Karl is reintroduced to an old girlfriend, Valda (Kerry Peacock), who is quite plainly pregnant and tells him that the baby is his, which adds stress to his life that he did not need right now. He does get quickly used to the idea, liking the prospect of being a father, but his own parents are keen to leave him tied to their apron strings and cast aspersions on whether the child will be his or not. The sequence where Valda is invited to dinner is a neatly observed example of all the seething ill-feeling not well articulated.

But after a while repetition sets in as the murders have to start, and while they're not dwelt upon sadistically, they do have impact for their abruptness and even arbitrariness, as those being bumped off are done so on the flimsiest of evidence that they had anything to do with Karl and Bill nearly being put away. Somehow the humour is divined here, with for instance Garvey locking himself in the bathroom when he sees his end is nigh, and the hitman (Michael Smiley) brought in to off him forced to bring his kid because he can't find anyone to look after it on such short notice. Most of those involved here have comedy experience, but what's surprising is how effective the drama turns out to be. It's almost as if the film is disappointed in these people, as if they could have made it through life without these unnecessary complications they bring on themselves, with Robin Hill the standout performance as nice guy if he wasn't prone to psychosis Karl. Music by Jim Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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