SIFF Review: Down Terrace

Rated R
89 minutes


The standard family drama has become melodrama. Even indie fare like “Rachel Getting Married” and the films of Noah Baumbach tend to lean more toward hyperbole than authenticity. Likewise, the British crime film has certainly been played out. Guy Ritchie saw to that. But Director Ben Wheatley and his writing partner, Robin Hill, thought to combine the two genres (throwing in black comedy for good measure) and the result feels fresh and brilliant.

That result is “Down Terrace.” There are no cheeky one-liners or slow motion here. There are no long dramatic speeches about feelings. Instead, we have the sobering realism of a Mike Leigh film illustrated through interactions between father and son, husband and wife, son and mother. They’re in business together, a trade that was inherited from the Matriarch’s side. What they deal in is not made clear, but we do know that no one is particularly enthusiastic about the work. In fact, they approach work matters as lazily as possible. Regardless, the first order of business is to find out which one of their colleagues dimed on Bill and Karl, resulting in jail time for the latter. Further complicating matters is an appearance by Karl’s girlfriend, Valda. She sports a bun in the oven that may or may not be made from Karl’s yeast. He falls quickly into the dad role, clearly wanting to right the wrongs he perceives his own father as committing.

Accentuating an already strong script are the performances by the leads. Bill and Karl are played by real life father and son Robert and Robin Hill. Robert plays an ex-hippie who very much believes he is keeping the faith by smoking grass and playing his folks songs. Robin plays an exasperated man-child with a bit of a violent streak. He tires of listening to his father’s opinions and stories about the good old days, but it’s clear that he is also desperate for the man’s approval. Julia Deakin (known for her hilarious work as a frisky landlord on the British sitcom, “Spaced”) is wonderfully understated as the long-suffering mum who just wants everyone to get along already. A protective wife and mother, she distrusts Valda. She’s also not at all afraid to get dirty and do what must be done.

And what must be done is violence. The murder most fowl in “Down Terrace” kind of sneaks up on you in the most delightful way. Once it’s out there, the situation quickly escalates taking us to Shakespearean Tragedy territory before it’s all over.

Originally published on (now defunct). 



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