Shot over a period of just eight days, Down Terrace tells the story of a Brighton based criminal family whose fortunes are dwindling. With father and son Bill and Karl returning home from court, having narrowly escaped a conviction, they set about to uncover the identity of an informant amongst their ranks.
The crime family is made up of a series of none too bright drug dealers, whose money doesn’t seem enough to supplement the family’s meagre lifestyle, given the fact that they’ve resorted to selling tat on eBay to bring more cash their way.
This, along with the way they go about uncovering the identity of the informan, it’s made abundantly clear that this isn’t the slickest crime operation ever depicted on screen. In fact, it’s possibly a contender for one of the worst. I found this quite refreshing, as at no point does it glorify their lifestyle. Instead, it makes it seem like one of the most depressing existences imaginable.
There’s some pitch black humour running through the film, which is little surprise knowing that both director-writer Ben Wheatley and writer-star Robin Hill worked together on comedy shows Modern Toss and The Wrong Door.
The humour’s much darker than their previous collaborations, but there are laughs to be had throughout. None of the humour is telegraphed or overtly played for laughs. It’s all done fairly subtlety and comes from the exchanges between the characters. A fine example of this would be how Karl discovers his girlfriend Valda is pregnant and greets her with a single expletive.
As you bear witness to a series of exchanges throughout the film, some of which at the time are seemingly innocuous, you later realise that you have gently been immersed into the lives of the characters. So, when the events leading up to the finale unfold, they have a huge impact, as by that point you’re hugely invested in the lives of those portrayed on screen.
The success of the emotional impact of the film and the humour is down to the excellent writing by Wheatley and Hill and the characters are brought to life by an excellent cast.
Some would, perhaps, take the view that it’s a bit of a cheat that Hill, playing the lead role in Karl, cast his real life father, Robert Hill, to play his onscreen father, Bill, and his real life wife, Kerry Peacock, to play his onscreen girlfriend. But I found this to be an incredibly effective way to get a real sense of chemistry between actors who had very few credits to their names.
These relationships form the core of the film and the actors seem to relish some of the dialogue they get to direct at one another. In addition to using those close to him in key roles, the film itself is shot in Robert Hill’s house.
The rest of the cast is supplemented by some excellent performances from some familiar faces including Michael Smiley (Tyres from Spaced) and an absolutely superb turn from Julia Deakin, who steals the film with her layered and emotional portrayal of the mother, Maggie. What starts as a seemingly typical mother character develops throughout the film and Deakin has some amazing scenes that took me by surprise.
The entire film is shot in a very naturalistic manner, with it seeming as though you are a member of the family as you observe the events unfold. There are shots where someone is greeted at the door, but they’re obscured as the camera takes the point of view from someone peering down from the upstairs landing. There are many examples like this throughout the film and, for me, its part of what made this such an effective piece of work.
This is an incredibly strong directorial debut from Wheatley and I hope he’ll have the opportunity to direct again in the not too distant future.
Down Terrace is a hugely impressive debut feature and shows that you don’t need a huge amount of money or time to make an emotionally engaging and gripping feature. It’s all about believable, well developed characters. This film is a remarkable achievement that comes highly recommended.
There’s quite an impressive array of extras considering that this was a fairly low key release.
The short film, Rob Loves Kerry, is an interesting and quite funny piece that shows how some of the central characters get to form the basis of their characters via a 10 minute short depicting Robin Hill and Kerry Peacock moving in to a new home and getting burgled the first night they’re there.
There’s a minute long acting test for Karl and Bill, with Robin and Robert developing their characters a little further from what was seen in the previous short and applying the material specifically to the characters they would portray in Down Terrace.
The camera tests show some of the techniques used in preparation of the film, like the previous short and acting test and is a good look at how the film was developed, as is the feature length commentary by Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill. I always find commentaries by first time filmmakers to be among the most interesting and this is no exception. It’s well worth viewing the film with this accompanying track if you’re a fan of the film or have filmmaking ambitions.
The Amazing Wizards sees the filmmakers showcase their comedic skills via a series of Jackass-style comedy sketches that are very funny and suitably shocking.
In addition to the above, there are some extra scenes and a festival trailer for the film.
Down Terrace is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.