| Down Terrace


Ben Wheatley

UK, 2009


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 03 May 2010

Source Magnolia Pictures 35mm print

Categories The 2010 Independent Film Festival Boston

Down Terrace relays the story of a family, who remains unnamed, somewhere in small town Britain. For the initial portion of the film, this family doesn’t seem altogether different from what we imagine a typical family from this part of the world is like. The parents are older, newly retired or on the verge thereof, and their 30-something son lives with them. They are always, always bickering about something, and eventually we discover this bickering erupts from a much deeper well of hostility.

Much of the pleasure of this fine film is in discovering the context of this family, which is revealed with considered restraint. It’s shot distinctively, in a manner that anticipates the outbursts of violence at its climax: most of the action takes place in the family’s home, captured in vérité fashion, but it’s cut with hard edits, in which the screen goes black for a moment, denoting passages of time. This effect abruptly stalls the action onscreen, and then immediately puts us back in another scene of further mounted tension.

The whole film isn’t characterized by this tension, however. Its various moments of comedy are genuinely unexpected, and it’s not long before the film has drawn a spectrum of responses so disparate that the viewer’s gasps grow as pronounced as her laughter.

I’ll cite one example of this disparity response: midway through, the family entertains a guest, but there’s a tone of suspicion to the proceedings. The guest is being accused of something he denies doing, and the back-and-forth banter escalates with the guest, having narrowly escaped his grasping hosts, running up the stairs and locking himself in the bathroom. Another hand is phoned to facilitate the capture, and the air of comedy is sustained—the invited friend, for one, arrives with his daughter, who must be supervised as the men resume their attempted murder.

Why this man is being captured wasn’t particularly clear to me, and Down Terrace isn’t as concerned with plotting as it is with acerbic dialogue and tonal momentum. Its conclusion will contain a series of climaxes, some of them expected, but its many pleasures are in the volleys of insults and family drama that lead to them.

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