Short Takes: Down Terrace
By Chris Chang
(Ben Wheatley, U.K., 2009)
Ben Wheatley’s next project will be a horror film, which implies that the British director’s current release is not. But in significant ways, at least to these eyes, Down Terrace resembles The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In terms of horror, there’s nothing supernatural in either film—no “actual” monsters or zombies—but they both have perversely violent narratives driven by particularly cruel and unusually close-knit families. And they’re both at times unnervingly funny.
The story—concerning a mom-and-pop criminal operation that’s run by a mom and pop (and their grown son)—begins when Dad brings the boy home from a four-month jail stint. A feeble attempt at a welcome-home party quickly gives way to an atmosphere roiling with resentment, paranoia, and schemes for retribution. Someone ratted someone out; someone’s gotta pay.
The two men are played by a real-life father-son duo (Robert and Robin Hill, the latter the film’s co-writer), the son’s pregnant girlfriend is played by his actual girlfriend (Kerry Peacock), and the house that serves as the film’s primary location belongs in fact to the director. (The entire low-budget enterprise was shot in eight days.) The mother (Julia Deakin) has no apparent genetic ties to anyone behind the scenes, but her Ma Barker role (and performance) is essential to the film’s grotesque yet enthralling familial fatalism.