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DOWN TERRACE (director/writer: Ben Wheatley; screenwriter: Robin Hill; cinematographer: Laurie Rose; editors: Ben Wheatley/Robin Hill; music: Jim Williams; cast: Robert Hill (Bill), Robin Hill (Karl), Julia Deakin (Maggie), David Schaal (Eric), Tony Way (Garvey), Kerry Peacock (Valda), Michael Smiley (Pringle), Mark Kempner (Councilor Berman). Kali Peacock (Mrs. Helen Garvey), Janet Hill (Mrs. Pringle); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andy Starke; Magnet Releasing; 2009)
“Has some poignant moments but gets lost along the way in the macabre.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit TV vet Ben Wheatley makes his screen debut in this uneven low-budget indie that has some poignant moments but gets lost along the way in the macabre. It’s a weird mixture of black comedy, kitchen-sink drama and crime drama. Laurie Rose films it with a handheld camera. The story takes place over thirteen days (it was shot in eight days) in the resort town of Brighton. Wheatley co-writes it with Robin Hill (also editor and co-star).

Former misguided hippie and amateur guitar playing folk singer Bill (Robert Hill, the real-life father of Robin) and the thirtysomething tantrum prone mama’s boy Karl (Robin Hill) are father and son ex-cons, just released from serving a four-months stretch in prison for some unnamed crime. They live in a modest suburban Brighton cottage with the practical but aggrieved long-suffering matriarch, Maggie (Julia Deakin), forming a functioning but unhealthy dysfunctional family. Conflicts arise with dad bullying his son and mum giving him questionable love, that ties her humiliated son to her apron strings. The small-time drug dealers receive regular visits in their cottage from their eccentric shady business friends like Garvey (Tony Way) and Eric (David Schaal), and while horsing around with them never fully trust them. Things get hectic when Valda (Kerry Peacock, the real-life wife of Robin), a prison pen pal of Karl’s, turns up unexpectedly pregnant after being away a long time and claims Karl’s the father–which irritates his folks, who doubt if it’s their son’s child. In the meantime the boys are stressed-out further thinking there’s a snitch among them that helped send them to prison and act abruptly to get their revenge on those they suspect even though they have such little evidence.

The paranoid boys soon find themselves in trouble with the low-level London crime syndicate they’re involved with, as things become a bloody mess as bodies pile up. The third act switches gears from its hokey deadpan comedy beginnings to give it the feel of an earnest Ken Loach family drama now turned into an oddball gangster flick.

The funniest line for me, was the slacker dad claiming his youthful ‘spiritual journey’ went awry because “you’re only as good as the people you’re with.”

In the end, this ambitious pic seems to be saying things get messed up because people twist reality through misuse of mind-bending drugs or because of character flaws or because they’re psychotic. Problem is that things become increasingly unpleasant without making much sense (too many holes in its narrative), none of the sullied characters are worth caring about and the screenplay is not as smart as it seems to think it is. But it does have an uneasy edge and the performers are fine. It’s an indie that is risky and original, things I appreciate in such ventures.

REVIEWED ON 11/28/2010 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”