QuickFix: ‘Down Terrace’ offers a dark view on domestic life

01.21.10 8 years ago

Magnet Releasing

Magnet Releasing recently announced that they’e going to be handling the U.S. release of 2009’s Fantastic Fest award winner “Down Terrace,” and this week in Park City, Alamo honcho and genial lunatic Tim League is going to be throwing a skull-destroying party in support of the film, which is playing Slamdance.

All of this finally spurred me to pop in my screener of the film, and I’m glad I did.  Ben Wheatley’s film, co-written with star Robin Hill, is a scabrous look at an English family whose venal distrust of of one another makes the Sopranos look like the Waltons by comparison.  There’s an extra kick provided by the casting of real-life father and son Robert Hill and Robin Hill as Bill and Karl, both just released after a short stretch in jail, ready to jump back into whatever criminal entertprise got them in trouble in the first place.

We never actually learn what it is that their family’s involved in, but that’s actually a crafty bit of screenwriting since it doesn’t really matter.  We know that they’re lawbreakers, and that their turf is everything to them.  That’s enough.  They went to jail because they were informed on by someone close to them, and since they have no idea who could have done it, they make the only sane, rational decision.

They’ll kill everyone.

It’s bizarre that IMDb has this categorized as a “comedy.”  There are a few dark chuckles here and there, mainly based on attitude, but this is not a comedy.  Instead, it’s a deranged fable about the way that sons have to eventually stand on their own, away from the protection and the influence of their fathers, and how that process can be emotionally devastating on both sides of the equation.  Karl’s gotten a girl pregnant, and his father’s response is one of anger, bullying him to either ignore his responsibilities completely or just get it taken care of.  He hates the girl, hates that she’s diverting Karl’s attention from the serious matters at hand.  Julia Deakin, best known for her role as the landlady Marsha on “Spaced,” plays the mother in this pit of vipers, and finds herself torn between her love for her son and her support for her husband.

Robin Hill gives a really dynamic, fascinating performance here, and he’s the least likely criminal mastermind I’ve ever seen in a film.  Doughy, given to terrible temper tantrums that are genuinely infantile, with thick-framed black glasses, he’s not scary at first sight, but the more you realize just how far he’ll go, the more frightening he becomes.  And the most important thing in his personality seems to be his absolute lack of concern about his own physical well-being.  There’s a scene where someone tries to stab him that is a brutally ugly and realistic fight, and it works because it’s not choreographed or “cool” at all.  It’s just this nasty primal struggle, and whoever wants it most is going to survive.

“Down Terrace” is a very small film, intimate, and yet it has an ending that feels positively cataclysmic.  It’s a very strong directorial effort for Wheatley, primarily known for British TV comedy before now, and it has absolutely put him and Robin Hill on my radar for whatever they do in the future.  When Magnet releases it later this year, pay attention.  It’s something else.

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You can e-mail me at drew@hitfix.com or follow me on Twitter, where I’m DrewAtHitFix.

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