Down Terrace (2009)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenplay: Robin Hill & Ben Wheatley
Cast: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock, Michael Smiley
Count me among Ben Wheatley’s great admirers—it is directors like him (along with Peter Strickland, Alejandro Inarritu, Leos Carax and Richard Ayoade) who give me faith in contemporary cinema. Original, thoughtful artists not shy about skewing or warping our perspectives, reminding us that in actuality none of this is real.
“Down Terrace” is Wheatley’s first feature and right from the beginning it’s apparent the director has a dab hand when it comes to casting. The acting is just about note perfect, the relationships between the principal players intricate and finely detailed; there is a lot going on inside that innocuous, working class house, undercurrents of suspicion and fear rippling and swirling beneath the surface, threatening to overwhelm its occupants.
Bill (Robert Hill) might be “past it”, as his London criminal associates fear, but his 34-year old son Karl (Robin Hill) doesn’t have what it takes to run the family’s various illegal enterprises either. Both have just returned home after narrowly avoiding lengthy jail terms because of an informant at the very heart of their organization. They have someone in mind and in one hilarious scene, a professional hitman, played by Michael Smiley, shows up to eliminate their prime candidate with his young son in tow. No babysitter available…
The film is funny and macabre, the violence coming in fast jolts, usually catching us off guard. Bill is determined to get his affairs in order, his wife Maggie (Julia Deakin, in a star turn) acting as his clear-headed advisor and steady right hand; Lady Macbeth and Lucrezia Borgia, all rolled into one.
“Down Terrace” was shot in eight days, much of the cast and crew either family or friends. One of the main actors (Robin Hill) co-wrote the movie and his real life father, Robert, plays Bill, patriarch and two-bit hoodlum with king-sized problems, in his business and his domestic life.
A family affair, a critical first feature, a creative collaboration, “Down Terrace” succeeds on all counts, presenting a closeup view of petty criminals sharing the same address, the same genes, but possessing very different plans for the future. Hard choices have to be made but who among them is strongest, willing to do what is necessary to survive?