Down Terrace review

Use the term ‘gangster film’ and you might think of GoodFellas, big guns, smart clothes, smarter mouths and the lure of a better life at least within sniffing distance. That Down Terrace has none of these and yet can still be justifiably categorised as a gangster flick is credit to Ben Wheatley, director and co-writer of this highly unusual and gripping British film.

Set in Brighton on the south coast of England, the story of Down Terrace revolves around Karl (Robin Hill) who has just had his court case acquitted. Quite what his crime was supposed to have been is never mentioned but it soon becomes apparent that someone has been informing on his family’s illicit business. Again, exactly what the family does is never revealed, although drugs seems to be a likely candidate given the amount smoked in the house. Then again, it doesn’t appear that business is great. A more unprepossessing house you could barely hope to see.

For despite being in his mid-thirties Karl still lives with his parents played wonderfully by Julia Deakin (Marsha from TV’s Spaced) and Robert Hill. The humdrum middle-class setting and conversation which range from the banal to the ridiculous with bouts of extreme anger in between make this feel like an episode of The Royle Family at times. Yet so little happens that you can’t help feeling there’s something unpleasant lurking just around the corner.

And indeed there is. Precisely because you’ve been lured into this almost cosy world of small talk of who might have grassed up Karl, when something does happen (and it would perhaps be unfair to reveal exactly what) it is one hell of a shock. It simply doesn’t fit in with the mood already created and for a good third of the film this is laugh-out loud funny stuff. The dialogue is naturalistic without being self-consciously so but the real joy comes from the characters who are fully-fleshed out real people, chock full of flaws. Best of all is Robin Hill whose moodswings are just severe enough to make you wary of him but without ever really knowing where you stand.

In the end, this is the brilliance of Down Terrace. Not knowing where you stand makes the whole experience fascinating, terrifying, dark, hilarious, sad and utterly unpredictable in the best possible way. It’s very odd indeed but a captivating watch from start to finish. Seek it out.

Down Terrace at IMDb

Justin Bateman is a Screenjabber contributor

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