Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Bill and Karl are the father and son heads of a small crime family, both of them just released from prison. While trying to figure out who set them up, they deal with a business that is dwindling, Karl finding out he's to be a father (and his mental downward spiral as well), and the very personal dynamics of family and f*ckery most foul when it comes to power and money in the blue collar crime world.
Is it good movie?
I went into Down Terrace cold, not knowing jack about it but intrigued by the cover, which promised "the style of Mike Leigh, The Sopranos' gangster reality, the Coen Brother's sense of humour and the body count of a splatter flick". I'll be damned if that much of a genre bender doesn't sell the flick immediately, but does it deliver the goods? In some ways. hell yeah, but in others, not so much.
Yes the movie does feel like a mob drama, this time done in a modest English home as opposed to the sprawl of urban America, but most of the drama here is of the family kind. The family business is so "small time" that it never really plays a part in the majority of the film. Sure, it is a lot of the motivation behind some of the killings, but most of those can be attributed to one character's burgeoning mental illness, and to the ingrained issues between father and son. However, as a family drama, it's an exceptional piece of storytelling. There is some raw human emotion mixed healthily in with the rest of the movie, which some critics have described as "a bunch of British blokes sitting around chatting". The movie is much more than that, really, because all of that chatting makes the moments of black comedy and unexpected murder all the more entertaining. Yeah, there were parts where I was a little bored, but then the flick throws a curve at you and grabs your attention right back again.
Visually the movie is not much to look at, with the limited one house location and dreary visuals all around, but story wise it moves at a decent pace, balancing comedy and drama while the downward spiral of this family plays out. The characters are all very well written and acted, especially by Robin Hill as the son Karl and his dad Robert Hill as his onscreen dad Bill. Their relationship off screen gives a lot of what works right onscreen here, and both are exceptional actors. The rest of the cast are good, and serve their parts well, but the Hill's are what this movie is about, and the father/son dynamic at work here is some heady stuff, especially in the "wow, that just happened" climax of the movie. The characters aren't as iconic or stylish as a Hollywood mod piece or a Guy Ritchie crime comedy, but for blue collar crooks dealing with family shite they do alright.
So while the description is a little overblown, the movie does deliver, and does so by its own merits without any comparisons to other works. It's clear that it is a labour of love for director Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill, and the result is a quirky, oddball family story that just happens to delve into the touchy subjects of small town crime, murder, madness and folk singing! Check it out if this is your thing. Highly enjoyable.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen (2.35:1).
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1) with subtitles in French and English closed captioning.
First up is an Audio Commentary by Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill, two blokes who have clearly done a nice body of work together and have a brilliant working chemistry. They're funny as hell to listen too, and for me, sometimes the audio commentary on indie flicks can be just as entertaining as the movie itself.
There are some Acting and Camera Tests, the highlight of which is seeing the talented Robert Hill in action, followed by Deleted and Extended Scenes, again the highlight being the elder Hill and his musical contributions. There is a short Special Effects Featurette showing us a peek into the jarring moments of gory goodness in the film, and finally there is a Festival Trailer.
But it doesn't end there, because hidden in the features are two gems. First is the short film "Rob loves Kerry", directed by Wheatley and starring two of the film's leads, which is a haunting and effective short. Lastly is a series of short clips "Tricks of the Amazing Wizards!!!", where Wheatley and Hill pull off some amazing stunts, with less than amazing but deadly and gruesome results. Some of the effects trickery pulled off here is really good, and had me in stitches. Nice work, guys, and easily one of my favourite parts of the DVD!
While not as huge and admittedly over dramatic as most crime dramas, Down Terrace is an entertaining character piece, sprinkled with some gallows humor and no small amount of bloodshed. The criminal aspects take a backseat to the family dynamics at play, and those are enough to keep this simpleton entertained. It's a gritty, heartfelt black comedy with some interesting twists and believably grounded characters, and it's well worth a watch for anyone interested in a quirky genre mashup that slow burns and then drops the goods like a live grenade! Nicely done!