This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)
Combining elements of crime thrillers, dysfunctional family dramas, and satirical comedies, Down Terrace is a sharp look at the inner workings of a family engaged in criminal dealings, involving multiple Spaced alumni. When father Bill (Robert Hill) and son Karl (Robin Hill) get out of prison for an unspecified crime, Bill investigates the members of his inner circle for a potential informant, moving through various dangerous former allies.
Meanwhile, Karl soon learns his girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock) became pregnant shortly before he was arrested, and they plan to get married as soon as possible. His mother (Julia Deakin) and father have manipulated him into living with them and working for them since he was young, and they see Valda as a threat to their considerable influence on his life. The situation becomes more serious as many of their associates meet with violent deaths.
With a script that’s as brutal as it is funny, Down Terrace is a darkly enjoyable film with several stand-out performances. There is little focus on the specifics of the family’s business or significant crimes, instead shifting attention almost solely to the dynamics of this twisted family. The conversations are confrontational and often insulting, and generally hilarious. The writing is sharp and clever, but I think the story itself doesn’t quite ride the line between comedy and crime drama effectively. The film is pegged as primarily a comedy, but there are some truly serious moments to the plot, and they don’t always fit in seamlessly amongst the humor, or sometimes the humor will be out of place.
The cast is top-notch, with real-life father and son Robin and Robert Hill sporting a satisfyingly realistic chemistry through a series of telling arguments and calmer interactions. I was surprised by Julia Deakin, whom I knew only from her role as the slacker alcoholic Marsha in Spaced, as she turned in a performance both touching and terrifying as a caring mother with a sinister edge. Most of the action takes place in a small apartment, and Wheatley uses its claustrophobic interiors to full effect with a lot of close, cropped shots and tight blocking that serve to expose the discomfort of the close-knit family.
Down Terrace is at once hilarious, violent, dramatic, and unexpected, with a great cast and sharp writing. I liked it a lot, but I think the mix of comedy and drama isn’t always blended well.