Monday, November 05, 2018

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

At the end of his review of Free Fire (April 2017, Sight & Sound), Tony Rayns suggested that Ben Wheatley and his partner Amy Jump “could yet turn out to be England's belated answer to Rainer Werner Fassbinder.” Whether they will end up earning such a lofty comparison remains to be seen, but there's no denying that the pair share Fassbinder's knack for working in a way that's fast, cheap and prolific. Wheatley shot his micro-budget debut Down Terrace (2009) in eight days, and even after making his breakthrough as a filmmaker he has still shown a willingness to turn away from high-profile pictures for experimental fare like his hallucinogenic black-and-white odyssey A Field in England (2013), which was shot in less than two weeks. Now, after the ambitious spectacle of the J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) and the starry shoot-'em-up Free Fire, Wheatley has cut loose once more with Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. Shot earlier this year in just 11 days, it's a notable picture for a couple of reasons: this is the first film Wheatley has made since his debut that doesn't have a co-writing or co-editing credit for Jump, and it's the first Ben Wheatley film that doesn't contain any violence.

That's not to say people don't get hurt in Happy New Year, Colin Burstead - Doon Mackichan stumbles within the first 15 minutes and spends half of the film with a bag of frozen peas strapped to her ankle - but the pain is primarily emotional rather than physical. Colin (Neil Maskell) has decided to hire a grand country mansion for his family's New Year's Eve party, but when we see him nervously vaping and listening to meditation music under the opening credits, we can sense that he's already regretting this decision. The family has barely settled at Cumberland House before Colin has to deal with his mother's ankle injury and his almost bankrupt father (Bill Paterson) tapping him for an emergency loan, and every additional guest only seems to add to Colin's anxiety. The wild card is David (Sam Riley), Colin's tearaway brother, who has been persona non grata since some unspecified transgression five years earlier. He has been invited by their sister Gini (Hayley Squires) as a surprise for their mother, but he's a most unwelcome surprise for the many partygoers who still harbour ill feelings towards him.

Read the rest of my review in the December 2018 issue of Sight & Sound