Bill and his son Karl are members of a seemingly normal family living in a terraced house within a nondescript suburb of Brighton. Following an acquittal from an unspecified court case, the two return home to the familiar staple of chores to be completed, tension between the family’s women to defuse and their own tempestuous relationship to address. Beneath this surface, however, lies a far more sinister and interesting truth; the members of this family are career criminals, and are now on a blood hunt for whoever grassed them up.
Welcome to Down Terrace, the feature debut from Ben Wheatley. Far from being merely an episode of The Sopranos directed by Mike Leigh as many reviews have suggested, the film is a fascinating look at the mechanics of a family, focusing on the little things that at once enthrall and irritate, exposing harboured truths and the ties that bind people together. Blazing arguments are abruptly ended by bursts of perfectly timed humour and assumptions about characters are turned on their head at the least predictable moments. Wheatley’s script, co-written with star Robin Hill, is a brilliantly original take on the familiar British crime genre, infusing each character with depth and compassion. We care deeply for each of these characters, which increases s the impact of their irrationally violent reactions towards others. A particular scene of pure visual humour resulting from a sudden action from Karl typifies this perfectly.
It comes as no surprise that Robert Hill (Bill) and Robin Hill (Karl) are real-life father and son, sharing a painfully realistic chemistry that’s as heart-wrenching as darkly amusing. An ex-hippie and regular drug user, Bill is prone to twisted philosophical musings that are highly enjoyable, and at times it’s difficult not to sympathise with the familial and professional weight on his shoulders. Karl is also blessed with some unfortunate situations to challenge his ever-shredded nerves, not least an ex-girlfriend who turns up at the door bearing his child. While plot devices such as this could possibly be viewed as contrived, they perfectly highlight the domestic pressures that bear on the family to the same extent as their illegal exploits.
Featuring a host of familiar faces from cult British comedy, such as Julia Deakin and Michael Smiley, combined with non-professional actors, the film is undoubtedly a lo-fi affair, though at no point is it hindered by its budgetary constraints. More so, the claustrophobic atmosphere is largely achieved through the film’s almost singular setting of the family home (the Hills’ real-life home, no less), and a sense of realism is attained through the use of minimal crew and equipment.
In a genre that boasts as many forgettable flops as Michael Caine or Bob Hoskins classics, it’s refreshing to see a film that finds something original to say without relying on clichéd one-liners or stock characters. Down Terrace has already proven itself to be a hit across the festival circuit, winning Best UK Feature at last year’s Raindance among others.