Movies You Might Have Missed: Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace

This black comedy debut feature from the ‘Kill List’, ‘High-Rise’ and ‘Free Fire’ director was made in eight days on a shoestring budget 

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The Independent Culture

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, a previous subject of this column, was the film that inspired Inside No 9, the majestic BBC series that recently concluded its third series. Down Terrace (2009) could just as easily have been spawned by Hitchcock’s underrated gem, with the bulk of the action taking place in a single location and the skilful combination of comedy and violence.

Down Terrace is the debut feature from Ben Wheatley, one of this country’s most intriguing auteurs. The man responsible for Kill List, High-Rise and, most recently, Free Fire, made his first film in eight days on a shoestring budget. The result is a gloriously dark crime caper set in a semi-detached house in Brighton that falls somewhere between the worlds of Quentin Tarantino and Mike Leigh. Prior to this, the director had spent a decade honing his craft on TV shows, adverts and animation shorts, so this is remarkably assured for a first film.

Played by real-life father and son Robert and Robin Hill, Bill and Karl have just been released from a brief stint in prison and are awaiting prosecution on charges relating to the criminal enterprise they run from the family home. It’s clear there’s a snitch in the ranks, but who could it be? Copious tea is drunk and blood is shed as they attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. This could almost be an Agatha Christie tale, but one in which Miss Marple is pushed in front of a car without a moment’s thought.

The supporting players are uniformly excellent, not least Michael Smiley of Spaced fame as a hot-headed and unreliable hitman who thinks nothing of letting his infant daughter join him on a job. David Schaal from The Office is suitably menacing, while Julia Deakin, as the matriarch who may or may not be pulling the strings, is magnificent and calls to mind Jacki Weaver in the sublime Animal Kingdom, a masterpiece from the same era.

This is not a film for the faint of heart and some will undoubtedly be put off by the nonchalant attitude of the characters concerning their many and varied heinous crimes. For those that can stomach it, however, there is much to enjoy. Wheatley somehow successfully blends kitchen sink realism with the savagery of a Peckinpah picture and the result is an examination of a dysfunctional family to rule them all. This is the blackest of black comedies and established the filmmaker as one to watch from the moment he arrived on the scene.