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March 2010


cast: Peter Ferdinando, Ricky Grover, Neil Maskell, Francis Pope, and Lorenzo Camporeze

director: Gerald Johnson

76 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 16:9
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
review by Paul Higson


Fhiona Louise's 1989 film Cold Light Of Day quietly turned up on video (as so many British films of miniscule budget were wont to at the time as no match for the Hollywood juggernauts) in 1990 making little impact. But then why should it? It was a nondescript little film, which told the story of Dennis Nilsen (played by Bob Flag), who was at the time that exceedingly rare thing, a British serial killer. The film was as nondescript as Nilsen, an otherwise dull fellow with limited social skills. Most of Cold Light Of Day was taken up with the quotidian as Flag's serial killer shuffled around his sparse surroundings, going to his elderly neighbours assistance in lieu of any existent care worker and kindly helping him with his embarrassing sanitary problems.

When not being neighbourly and nothing he invites homeless young men back to his bed-sit whereupon they promptly vanish never to be seen again, until the day one appears as broken down human remains clogging up the drains. Produced by, of all people, Richard Driscoll, Cold Light Of Day could not by any estimation be described as anything remotely resembling entertainment and one could brand the 21-year-old actress Fhiona Louise naive in her thinking that there could be money out and money in on this project. There could be no audience for such an unremittingly grim, basic, and true a tale as this, but it is that honesty that results in a begrudging appreciation of her simple and bleak vision.

Gerard Johnson's debut feature Tony captures that same ugly realism and is highly reminiscent of the earlier film. It too attempts a rough and edgy portrait of a British serial killer, a creepy but otherwise scrawny and unthreatening outsider (like Nilson). For someone with the propensity for murder and bathroom butchery, he is of remarkably low intellect, at times seemingly deliberately reckless, almost daring the outside world to check up on him and discover the dismemberment in his bathtub and the human offal on his draining board.

He even allows one of his victims to escape, likening the poor sod to the closest thing to an affinity of a friendship, and so convinced of it that he sees him unlikely to report him to police or share the horrors in the flat with the derelict drug-addled community he is returning to. It is hard to wit Tony with the ability to differentiate between the good and the bad though there is little to compare here as virtually everyone he comes into contact with is rotten. The neighbour shows him kindliness, recognising his loneliness, and invites him to Sunday lunch, which one can imagine going horribly wrong but the film times out before it can get there.

Tony as a film deliberately does not hang around long enough to see out all potential outcomes. It is more content to leave the viewer with evidence of what he is capable of in several set-pieces, essentially profiling Tony before leaving us with his continual slipping under the radar... for now. Now that could be read as a spoiler but the film is less interested in closure and more with nibbling at our conscience. The characters that Tony slays are more often than not repellent or symbols of antagonism. The bullying neighbour (one of the more familiar faces, Ricky Grover) will not become one of the victims as from the point of view of story and sense that might see Tony's capture and he is also too powerful. However, common sense is then chucked out as he throttles the TV licensing man, which would almost certainly lead an investigation to his door. Johnson cheats us on these occasions but, unlike Cold Light Of Day, Tony, for all its dreary realistic environment, does go for the funny bone.

Peter Ferdinando is remarkable as the mumblecore murderer and his miserable life is committed to a self-imposed constitutional unemployment and little other meaningful activity. In the job centre there is a frankly unbelievable encounter with an advisor which beggars the question of how he could get away with worklessness for over two decades. He is given a job offer ultimatum by the advisor and is met with Tony's response of, "I'm not quite sure that's a good idea. I'm quite happy as I am."

Nevertheless, the pale freak ends up conned into unpaid work for the 'Bronze and Go' tanning salon. His more common pastimes are sitting alone at a pub table with a beer and returning home to watch something in his small collection of 1980s post-cert violent action films over and over again. Most amusingly for fans of trash cinema, his favourite film is Peter Manoogian's Enemy Territory (1987) - starring Jan-Michael Vincent - which one is worried to admit was one of the more standout low-budget action films of the time, largely due to its close to offensive premise in which a white insurance man battles for his life against a black ghetto gang (the Vampires) in a tenement block. Enemy Territory is Tony's The Magnificent Ambersons just as the Gary Busey vehicle The Hider In The House (1989) is his Three Colours Blue, and accidental damage to any one of his precious videocassette tapes could cost a visitor his life.

He repeat visits a gay pub where he doesn't have to do any picking up as they will do that for him. Their sexual advances, when home, make him murderously defensive preferring the bedtime company of their corpses instead. Visitors are offered orange squash and fish fingers, and if the gorier moments don't make you squirm then Tony's pathetic attempts at social interaction will. Tony is downright funny and brutally unpleasant, and it should be of no surprise to find Paul Abbott's name (Shameless creator) on the credits as the executive producer. The short running time of 76 minutes is well-filled (in abject comparison to the minimalist Cold Light Of Day) and Ferdinando is ably supported by a fine supporting cast of characters that are comparable to the misfit crowd of Shane Meadow's Dead Man's Shoes.

The community about Tony is so horrible that the director pulls off the impossible trick of making Tony a default hero contrary to his extenuating unlike-ability. No mean feat. Shown at the Grimmfest it was not a film that I was able to see at the time but did wander into the director and actor interview, and do wish now that I had squeezed it in. It does continue to retrospectively big up the solid, overall choice of films over the Grimm Up North weekend and we now find ourselves with two more talents, in a director and his actor, to keep an eye out for.

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