Family values and moral ambiguity are at the forefront in Down Terrace. This seemingly simple story about a small time crime family dealing with their own insecurities and misgivings holds more malice than mischief. Down Terrace is a well made low-budget affair with strong acting and effective scenes, but it’s also abrasive and alienating. Billed as a dark comedy, the film never comes quite to delivering on that expectation. In fact, the story’s characters are rather sad and watching them burn each other down never delivers more than a few morbid chuckles. Down Terrace is difficult to recommend for the casual movie-goer and may only appeal to audiences who want the challenge of living two weeks in the lives of some of the ugliest personalities imaginable.
Down Terrace is about Bill (Robert Hill) and Karl (Robin Hill), the father and son show-runners of a small town branch of an organized crime syndicate. The story begins with the pair being released from jail after being busted for a mysterious crime. When they return to the family house in Down Terrace they’re greeted by the family’s matriarch Maggie (Julia Deakin), and a loyal but dim-witted member of the gang (Tony Way). We find out quickly that the recent crime isn’t their only problem, but rather a mole in the family who threatens to bring down their entire operation. Tensions rise further when Bill’s girlfriend – before his stint – shows up looking very pregnant. Then there’s a greasy uncle who’s trying to worm his way up the ranks and a neurotic hit-man who proves more trouble than he’s worth.
In between juggling newfound parental responsibilities and a criminal syndicate that’s falling apart at the seams; the family begins to unravel at a serious pace. Eventually, insecurities turn the members of the family against one another paving the way for an emotional climax.
To be fair Down Terrace does a few things right. It stretches its low budget for miles. The director makes such effective use of its single set audiences may truly feel like they’re trapped within the small house inhabited by this collapsing family. The acting is also excellent. Robert and Robin hill bring the genuine emotion felt as real-life father and son to the screen and it really benefits the film. The shining star is the family Mum, Julia Deakin. She’s particularly icy and shrewd and it doesn’t take long before the audience is aware that she is the only real brains in the operation. In fact Maggie may be the only sympathetic character, as she does whatever is necessary to try and preserve her failing family.
However the rest of the film is difficult to digest. If audiences are expecting a comedy in the vein of a Coen Brothers film or the early Guy Ritchie, then they won’t find much to laugh at. What genuine humor is to be had comes at the expense of watching these truly pathetic people trying to cope with a criminal lifestyle they just can’t handle. While scenes of this nature are well done, they’re far too sporadic to carry the film. It’s really a true-and-true drama with only a few laughs sprinkled in. Even if audiences are better tuned in to a dramatic gangster story, they still might have trouble becoming absorbed with Down Terrace. The characters are just too bitter and reprehensible to empathize with. Karl spends much of the film whining about his responsibility to the family business and sidelining all of his friends and relatives to make way for his unpleasant girlfriend. Bill isn’t much better as a he clearly states that life was better for the family when it was only him and his wife. While the delivery of these scenes is consistently good, the excessive negativity of the characters themselves really inhibits the enjoyment. If the actors could have used their talent to inject the characters with a little humor and charisma, it could’ve gone a very long way. As it stands audiences will have a hard time caring who the police informant is or whether Karl is the actual father of his girlfriend’s child. It’s just too difficult to care for these characters who clearly care so little for each other.
There’s no denying that Down Terrace is a well made film, but it’s too bitter for its own good. It feels self aware and purposefully dark and definitely falls short of being effectively comedic. However, audiences who are willing to commit their time to follow the downfall of a seriously dysfunctional crime family may find plenty to smile about. Down Terrace is an earnest independent effort worthy of recognition, but it comes difficult to recommend to all but the most diehard gangster movie fans.