Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Empire Online - Review

A sinister Darwinism operates within Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace, a darkly hilarious reclamation of the British crime genre from those opprobrious peddlers of mockney muppetry. Wheatley made his name on such small-screen series as Time Trumpet, The Wrong Door and Ideal, but this kitchen sink variation on the family firm formula announces his arrival on the cinema scene.

Father and son small-timers Robert and Robin Hill have just been released from jail after being nabbed for an unspecified crime. Convinced that one of their associates shopped them, they greet each visitor to their Brighton terrace with jaundiced civility. Club manager Tony Way gets suckered into buying some booze before being dragged away by his possessive wife, while Irish hitman Michael Smiley is similarly distracted by domestic responsibilities, as he has to get his toddler son home. Only fixer uncle David Schaal lingers to celebrate the Hills' release, with corrupt councillor Mark Kempner dropping in to apologise for being unable to pull any strings with the local constabulary. However, Hill, Jr's desire for vengeance is deflected when ex-girlfriend Kerry Peacock announces she's pregnant with his baby and he decides the time has come to settle down, much to the dismay of his disapproving mother, Julia Deakin.

Eventually, the family decides that Way is the culprit, only for him to lock himself in the bathroom to evade Smiley's botched retribution. The problem is solved next morning, however, and the first of several corpses is wrapped in polythene sheeting and parcel tape and deposited in the Sussex countryside. But where is the slaying going to stop?

Deadpan is the watchword for this seaside homage to The Sopranos, with the slapstick insouciance of the assassinations only enhancing its bleak appeal. Robert Hill and Julia Deakin seethe their contempt for their minions like a couple of backstreet Macbeths, while Robin Hill (who also co-scripted) veers between brattish tantrums and clumsy romantic gestures that disguise his darker purpose. Surreal and sinister, this is a splendid exercise in anti-social realism that deserves to reach a wider audience.

David Parkinson

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