Down Terrace is a crunchy little British crime comedy set mostly in the confines of a suburban Brighton apartment. Inside the apartment lives a lower-class family of criminals trying to unravel the mystery of who ratted out the family patriarch. Bill (Robert Hill) and his son Karl (Robin Hill) return home from a short stint in prison and set out with the family matriarch, Maggie (Julia Deakin), to find the rat who got them pinched. Instead of finding a snitch they find themselves mired in their ordinary family dynamics, which are dysfunctional to say the least. Down Terrace is the reverse of the big-budget, star laden, Brit crime films of the last several years. No sprawling sets, no fancy cars, no guns to speak of, not even a sexy girl. Thus, all that's left are the real-feeling bits of gangster culture - which is good because those are the most interesting bits anyway, and with a budget of about 20 thousand British pounds (according to director and executive producer Ben Wheatley), all one can afford are real bits. Fortunately, on a budget that low it's pretty easy to turn a profit, which one imagines Down Terrace will have no trouble doing on its American theatrical run.
Co-screenwriter/co-star Robin Hill wrote the part of Bill for his own father, Robert, whose only other acting job was in another of his son's productions, Project: Assassin (1997). The apartment in which most of the action takes place is also Robert's actual apartment, but the film does not suffer from the use of either the dad or his place. Julia Deakin (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) is a veteran British actress whose honed skills are perfectly suited to play Maggie, every child's nightmare of a mum. Maggie is haggard, droll and down right viscous. If she loves her son, she resents him at least as much. Veteran actor Michael Smiley (The Other Boleyn Girl) is sharp, scary and funny as Pringle, a low rent hitman who brings his kid to work (and works with a butcher knife); he's another professional in Down Terrace who knows his way around a scene. The junior Hill's script, written with director Wheatley, very deliberately considers the abilities of each of its elements, from the inanimate to the human, and uses each to their best effect. From the crowded little apartment to the actual wardrobe of the players and the writer's own dad, nothing and no one is asked to say or do anything they can't make believable, thus everything, even the preposterous, is perfectly plausible if not also hysterical and terribly disturbing.
What kind of crime this lowbrow-Shakespearean family is involved in is only opaquely addressed. There is reference to a club, talk of drugs and inferences of much worse, but the specifics are veiled. Aside from lending itself to the film's tiny budget, the lack of detail allows the cast to play unspoken narrative elements like a family with a rich shared history; this allows the film to concentrate on power dynamic instead of historical detail and who-did-what. Here, what's really going on is an extended family upheaval in one of the most awful families one can imagine. Combine the dastardly inclinations of Richard the III (Bill) and Lady Macbeth (Maggie), with the edge of rationality found in Hamlet (Karl), not to mention a measure of ineptitude on the part of everyone, and the result is a clever film that's not fairly described as just comedy, but is very funny nevertheless. All that with only a single shot fired and nary a car chase and no Victoria's Secret models.
Lets see Guy Ritchie try that.
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Cast: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock and Michael Smiley
Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenwriter: Robin Hill and Ben Wheatley
Producers: Andrew Starke
Rating: R for violence, pervasive language and some drug use.
Running time: 94 min
Release date: October 15 ltd.