If "The Sopranos" had been cooked up by Mike Leigh instead of David Chase, the result might resemble Down Terrace, an unassuming little dramedy that barely seems to mesh with the genre criteria of most other Fantastic Fest programming and yet managed to take home a handful of awards, and rightfully so.

Karl (Robin Hill) has followed in his father's footsteps, to the extent that they've both just been let out of jail, and Bill (Robert Hill) wonders who may have ratted them out. Karl has more pressing concerns, though -- namely, a girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) whose pregnancy will require more responsibility on Karl's part than he's ever known.

Sure, Bill's not terribly keen on the prospect of becoming a grandfather, just as Maggie (Julia Deakin) is wary of becoming a grandmother, especially with them all already living under one roof. But their top priority is finding the leak and plugging it, because although we're never explicitly told what criminal shenanigans the family is involved in, it quickly becomes apparent that they'll do whatever is necessary to protect their interests, as their paranoia draws them closer -- and downward -- together...
Co-written by Hill and director Ben Wheatley, Down Terrace starts out shaggily enough, as we see the family (whose surname is never revealed) get back into the swing of things. Bill occasionally goes into a rambling tangent about how drugs were in the '60s as the pipe is being passed around. Karl's temper will flare up at the slightest of inconveniences. (The way he drops a single expletive at the sight of his girlfriend's pregnant belly is priceless.) Everyone basically gets along so long as no one gets in each other's way.

Soon enough, though, the gentle comedy of short fuses morphs into the gallows humor of sudden outbursts, as hitman pals bring their toddlers along for the job and our family begins to run out of shower curtains in which to wrap up all these loose ends of theirs. From there is where things grow much more personal, and it's at this point that the film reveals the true power of its plainness -- as the laughs subside, we've grown very much immersed in who these people are and what they're bound to do to one another.

And all these increasingly destructive matters only really matter because of the performances at hand, and the entire ensemble -- professional and non-professional alike -- works like a charm at alternating menace and malaise. Then again, it doesn't hurt that Karl's father is played by Robin's real-life father, or that Karl's girlfriend is played by Robin's real-life wife, or that his parents' place stands in for... his parents' place. It seems easy enough to write that all off as some sort of a cheat ("they've been training for these roles all of their lives!"), but countless other casts who haven't had such an advantage can only wish they could get along with such natural ease.

That's really the true beauty of Down Terrace: that it's all so natural, so utterly unremarkable that it grows to be so very remarkable and so basically fascinating. No effects, no names, no nothing but drama unfolding as it should, or rather, as it would. No, it may not fit the traditional bill for Fantastic Fest fare, but it sure is one fantastic film.

(Oh, and then you find out it was shot in a mere eight days, and you just want to give up on life.)
categories Cinematical