If Ladykillers (1955) was darkly comic, then I think we ran out of spectrum too soon. At some point, you’ve left the area of comedy and turned into a drama (probably a psychological one). Or, more personally, there’s a point where you stop laughing or you’re a psychopath. There’s Down Terrace (2009) and then there’s American Psycho (2000). Let’s just say they left Ladykillers far behind.
Bill (Robert Hill) and his son Karl (Robin Hill) are released from prison or the charges are suddenly dropped or something. They come home to mom, Maggie (Julia Deakin). Apparently, there’s a mole in this Brighton criminal organization. We’re not sure who it is. Could be the tubby Garvey (Tony Way), the hit man Pringle (Michael Smiley), or the soldier (David Schaal). Well, as history tells us, once you start questioning loyalties (and then doing something about it), it’s hard to stop.
Down Terrace, directed by Ben Wheatley, is an indy gangster film made with a very close feel. Things get very heavy and then broken up with a little dark comedy. So it’s just a lighter shade of black to contrast with the gray and black. And for some reason, they take a lot of bicarbinates (or they’re drugs, I couldn’t really tell).
This was just on the brighter side of American Psycho, so if you found yourself uncomfortable in that movie, you may still be okay in this one. The dark side here is sometimes murder-oriented, but moreso it’s about family dysfunction.
Karl’s girlfriend, Valda (Kerry Peacock), is pregnant and there are some significant questions about paternity. Bill gives Karl endless grief about that and Maggie doesn’t go too easy on him either.
Dysfunction can be funny. But the performances are so realistically angry that it can be a challenge. That’s what makes this movie pretty interesting. Usually a dark comedy is a comedy with a subject matter that typically isn’t seen as funny. Mortuaries or murders, that kind of thing. This movie doesn’t really fall into that structure. Rather, this is a drama that’s broken up with The Office (2001-03)-style jokes.
There’s also a pretty strong nihilistic element in the movie. That steers it back to the dark comedy framework, but those parts of the movie didn’t strike me as comic. There are a fair number of bodies to be dealt with in this movie, but when they’re sitting (if you can call that sitting) there, I did not feel that the abnormal response from the characters was meant to be funny.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t traditional dark comedy in the movie. Bodies need burying and the difficulties involved are absolute dark comedy. The overall tone, however, is slightly different. I think that’s pretty interesting and makes this worth watching. I’m not running out to buy it, but I think I’ve gotten something out of it.
I was pretty impressed with all the performances. They all had to show some terrific range. There was comic timing, anger, sadness, psychopathy, and neutral elements to play. Robin Hill (above) clearly had the most and best material to show off and he did very well. His performance is really what keeps all these disparate tones up in the air without making the movie emotionally confusing. An achievement.
Apparently, the movie was shot in eight days. That leads me to wonder why it takes everyone so much more time and money to make their movies. Probably because they aren’t all made by tight-nit group of people that, considering their respective credits, these people seem to be.