Down Terrace Review: House Of Blues
Do my eyes deceive me? A British gangster film that does not star Danny Dyer? Surely not…
Fresh from being acquitted in court, father and son Bill (Robert Hill) and Karl (Robin Hill) return to their terraced home in Brighton fixated on discovering who grassed them up to the Old Bill. The small-time dope-dealers have plenty of candidates, and ‘big boned’ Garvey (Tony Way) is their prime suspect.
Karl also has to deal with the unexpected arrival of former flame Valda (Kerry Peacock) who is pregnant with his child…at least he thinks it’s his child. Down Terrace is a film that flirts with both gritty and intense kitchen sink drama and dark, violent humour. It is laugh-out-loud funny in places, shocking and disturbing in others.
Director Ben Wheatley shot the film with handheld cameras, and there is a sombre folk soundtrack which is woven into the narrative well. Wheatley co-wrote the script with Robin Hill (whose real life father Robert gives an excellent performance as his onscreen dad). Fans of Spaced will notice a couple of familiar faces in Julia Deakin (Marsha Klein in Spaced) who plays matriarch Maggie, and Michael Smiley (Tyres O’Flaherty in Spaced) who plays rubbish hitman Pringle. David Schaal, who has the kind of face you recognise without quite being able to place, plays Uncle Eric.
The family, whose surname is never revealed, give the aura of amateurs. It’s hard to imagine them as crime lords or gangsters as they mope about in their pokey two bedroom house (which provides the predominant, and often claustrophobic, setting for the film). But, the criminal activities of the family are not the film’s focus, rather it is the complex relations of a family hanging together by a thread.
Down Terrace will inevitably be compared to The Sopranos, which is a simple, but not entirely accurate, parallel. Both feature conventional families in unconventional professions, but Down Terrace is a far drearier and depressing take on the murky underworld of crime. In many respects, the family life depicted provides the darker elements of the film, with the moments of light relief coming courtesy of bloody, over the top murders.
I’m still not sure whether I liked Down Terrace or not, although it did exceed my (albeit exceeding low) expectations. It’s nice to see an original and inherently British take on the gangster flick, but the deadpan humour (particularly prominent in the first half of the film) often seems at odds with the darker themes and more obvious humour of the second half of the film. It’s a solid film, but perhaps better suited to television.