Down Terrace (2009)
By: Julian on April 4, 2011  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 5.1 | 89 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal
Screenplay: Robin Hill, Ben Wheatley, Tony Way
Country: UK
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Those who have been raised on the Guy Ritchie British gangster – a shoot-from-the-hip larrikin who swills pints with his mates, knocks off other (more sinister, more antagonistic) gangsters and emerges smelling like roses – will discover the antithetical model in Ben Wheatley's 2009 debut feature Down Terrace. The blokes in Down Terrace are paranoid, delusional psychopaths, utterly unhinged, whose downfall begins as a kernel of doubt from within the group that mushrooms into calamity.

Down Terrace comes from the same school of British gangster films as does, say, Gangster No 1, another debut feature that eclipsed most of its contemporaries. Like Paul McGuigan's film, Down Terrace is blackly funny, sometimes shocking and relentlessly depressing. Unlike Gangster No 1, though, Down Terrace can also be boring and formulaic. Wheatley is a solid director, and he makes the most of what is undoubtedly a micro-budget, but the screenplay he wrote with lead actor Robin Hill is peppered with dialogue and monologue that is a poor imitator of Tarantino, and in spite of its brisk 85 minute running time, Down Terrace often drags its feet.

When it does kick off (about half way into the film), it's clear that Wheatley has learned from the best. The paranoia of the gangster clique, headed by patriarch Bill (Robert Hill), that one of their own is a police informant poised to fatally strike against them, fast descends into cold, clinical murder. There's nothing glamorous about the gangster family here, which makes the quote on the cover calling the film 'a British Sopranos' slightly misleading. All of them – from the manipulative mother to her mummy's boy son – are as bad as each other, though none more bad than Eric (David Schaal, in a brutal performance), who in a burst of insanity thrusts a woman pushing a pram into the path of a speeding car. Curiously, the marketing has attempted to sell Down Terrace as some sort of dark comedy, possibly in an attempt to capitalise on the Richie factor. There's very little comedy here though, and when it does occasionally pop up, it's as black as the Ace of Spades.

Credit must be given to Wheatley where it's due. The neuroses of the characters reach a psychotic climax. The actors competently flesh out the key relationships and the performances are decent across the board, particularly by Schaal (who recently appeared in the hysterically funny Brit series The Inbetweeners), a cold, calculating nutter; and Karl (co-screenwriter Robin Hill), a weakling constantly trying to assert his authority against his overbearing father. But this is ultimately an interesting failure, unfortunately let down by a sluggish lead-up and some contrived scripting.
Down Terrace is presented in 2.35:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It looks fine.
Two English audio tracks, presented in 5.1 and 2.0. The sound isn't particularly good; the dialogue is poorly balanced, and the background sound is often too loud. This disc would have benefited from subtitles.
Extra Features
A minute-long acting test with the two Hills; a four-minute camera test; a 10-minute extended scene 'Bill Talks About the 60s'; a 5-minute deleted scene with a toad that Robert Hill brings onto the set(!); an 8-minute stunt featurette; a theatrical trailer and other Madman trailers. It's all a bit facile – it would have been nice to have a couple of more substantial features; interviews, commentaries and the like.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
It's clear that Down Terrace's greatest strengths and glaring weaknesses are all in Wheatley and Hill's screenplay, and it is this inconsistency that fails the film. It's a lesser entry into the British gangster canon, but certainly a compelling one, and it is at once clear that the key players are devoted to their material. Down Terrace shows some promise, but it ultimately falls short of the mark.

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