Film Review: Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is an enjoyable comedy drama. The picture is lighter than Wheatley’s previous efforts, yet is a finely tuned affair.

Colin Burstead has organised for his extended family to celebrate New Year at a lavish country house which he has rented out. His sister Gini has invited their estranged brother David, which could make for an awkward reunion…

Written, directed, and edited by Ben Wheatley, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features an ensemble cast as a dysfunctional yet convincing family. The film focuses on various family dynamics, playing with a number of different strands. The action takes place over a single day. The film begins as a situation comedy, before more serious issues come to light in the second half.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features a great script (written by Wheatley with some ad-libbing from the cast). Interactions seem entirely natural; the Bursteads certainly feel like a real family. There are some very funny lines, delivered by a variety of characters. There are also some great setups. Wheatley excels in providing a lot of amusement for viewers.

In the second half of the film, the issues that have been bubbling under come to the fore. Whilst there are confrontations, the film does not necessarily resolve every issue in a neat manner. Wheatley frequently cuts between different conversations involving different characters, which helps to build momentum to the film’s more dramatic episodes.

Performances from the large cast are good all round. Neil Maskell and Sam Riley are given the most to do, and perform well. Hayley Squires and Charles Dance are also good, and Asim Chaudhry is very amusing as Sham.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is not a film of great consequence. However, it is an accomplished picture, and showcases Wheatley’s talent for comedy drama without a hint of violence.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Piggy

A British independent film, Piggy is a thriller with a mean streak. But for all its posturing, the film comes up short.

Joe is a socially uncomfortable young man who lives a routine lifestyle. Joe’s older brother John acts very much as a protector. After one tragic night, Joe finds solace in Piggy. With Piggy guiding him, Joe is led down a dangerous path of revenge…

The most crucial defect of Piggy is that it becomes boring. The set up is fine, but the narrative becomes repetitive. The same type of scene is repeated over and over, with little breaking up this monotony. Piggy does not really go anywhere, despite having numerous options to take. The dialogue is also unfortunate, at times feeling inauthentic or jarring.

Writer-director Kieron Hawkes sets Piggy up as an ambivalent character. Presumably the audience is meant to ponder over the nature of this character. The problem with this is that from the very first scene it is obvious that the existence of this character is in question. There are definite allusions to Fight Club, although Piggy does not work nearly as well as David Fincher’s film.

Piggy is a violent film, but one that shows little actual gore. Hawkes maximises the use of sound effects, rather than relying on strong images. The sound is very effective in making the audience imagine the very graphic action that is not depicted visually. Art direction in Piggy is also good. The dankness of surroundings is effectively conveyed, with some of the locations appearing particularly grim.

Martin Compston offers an uneven performance as protagonist Joe. For the most part he is fine, but occasionally he does not emit the emotion expected. Neil Maskell is believable in a small role, while Paul Anderson is well cast as Piggy. Anderson is hindered by the script, however.

Most viewers are likely to find Piggy repetitive and dull. It is a shame that Hawkes’ film did not offer something more.

Piggy is released in cinemas on Friday 4th May, and available on DVD from 21st May 2012.

Film Review: Kill List

An atmospheric thriller, Kill List boasts a great ending. There are a few small problems with the film, but overall it is a worthwhile watch.

Shel is frustrated with her husband Jay as money is tight and he has not worked for eight months. When his best friend Gal and new girlfriend Fiona come to dinner, Jay reluctantly agrees to do another ‘job’. After being given a list of targets, Jay and Gal set about completing their task. As they make their way through the list, the men go off track as they witness something horrifying that leads them to an even darker place…

A thriller that transforms into a horror movie at certain points, Kill List makes a lasting impression primarily for its ending. The film begins as a crime film, seemingly concerned with two contract killers and the necessity to complete their task. In the background, there is the fact that Jay and Gal are army veterans as well as some unexplained past trauma.

Kill List relies on the combination of apprehension and a sense of the unknown to grip viewers. Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley is successful for the most part in maintaining this tension. There are a few occasions in the first half of the film that the atmosphere wanes slightly, but Kill List recovers from this.

The narrative of the film is interesting, although there are too many things that are left unexplained. Perhaps this feeds into the mystery, but the film would have been more cohesive if the varying elements had slipped together in a succinct manner. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump have produced a good script. The dialogue is natural, and the interactions and banter between Jay and Gal come across as authentic.

Wheatley is clearly a fan of abrupt editing, as this is used several times in the film, not least in the initial scene where viewers are catapulted into the midst of a blazing row. The camerawork and lighting are also effective, particularly in the film’s later night scenes.

Performances in the film are good. Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring are suitably cast as Jay and Shel; their rows are believable and uncomfortable. Michael Smiley brings some lightness as Gal, while Emma Fryer appears a little restricted in her expressions as Fiona.

The film’s ending is very well constructed, and is likely to stay with viewers after they leave the cinema. Kill List‘s violence is considerable, but it is the climate of the film that leaves a lasting impression.