Review: TERRY - Gets An A For Effort

rating: 3

In the stakes of kitchen-sink cinema, perhaps no film has so proudly put its empty, inside-out pockets on display for all to see as Nick Nevern's Terry, a noble, if understandably rickety mockumentary that makes 2009's low-fi British zombie pic Colin seem like a high-budget Summer blockbuster. It goes without saying that Terry has dreadful production values, but then that is to miss the point; shot for £500 on a consumer-grade video camera, with evidently no professional lighting or sound recording equipment to speak of, the film's success and failure - for it has a share of both - rests with Nevern, who takes triple duty here as writer, director and star. That he has made a memorable, intermittently intriguing film despite the eye-searingly poor technical execution is a testament to the fact that Nevern probably deserves a shot at making a studio-endorsed film as much as any struggling indie filmmaker. Positioned as the college film studies project of a teenage student, Charlie Ruez (Manuel Atkinson), Terry has Ruez spending his days following his titular acquaintance (Nevern), a lad-ish gangster-type who appears to spend most of his time down the pub with his equally thuggish mates, trying to pick up women and more often than not, start fights and do drugs. As the doc develops, Charlie comes to identify with an increasingly manic, violent Terry, leading to an unsurprisingly grim climax. Almost instantly recognisable as an homage to the groundbreaking mock-doc Man Bites Dog, Terry's narrative success is nevertheless always at odds with its slumming presentation, such that even champions of independent cinema may find its shoddy production more obtrusive than refreshing. The question quickly becomes - would the film be easier to handle with steadicam, a boom mic, a consistent screen ratio, a soundtrack that doesn't sound like the demo CD of one of the production team's mates and, a half-decent camera to begin with? While the answer is yes, there's also the distinct feeling that Terry wouldn't be half as meritorious or worth talking about if it wasn't so tawdrily produced, and thus it is a film easy to admire in its ambition, though easier to deride as an amateur production delving too often into street crime clichés. The dialoguing, while unoriginal, at least feels authentic; the performances are thoroughly decent and never feel forced, giving the impression this could very well be a gangster's home video, albeit a strange and grim one. Nevern himself guides the pack with a charismatic, compelling turn that shows experience beyond which his years or status would ever suggest. The scripted banter is oddly compelling, likely because it never feels scripted; anyone who has ever taken a trip to some of London's more notorious dives in East and South London will vouch for its authenticity, even if a few locations do seem suspiciously upmarket. Still, Nevern captures the essence of the mockumentary with a more savvy tact than many mainstream filmmakers have; the footage cuts off when it is implausible to continue, though an on-camera drug deal does begin to stretch credibility. While much of the first half is relaxed scenery chewing and pub crawling, an eerie undercurrent slowly builds, as it becomes clear that, as the male ego collides with drugs, guns and gangs, something is going to kick off. It all mounts up to an inevitably cataclysmic but no less disturbing and somewhat depressing conclusion. Knocking the film is like teasing the kid at school whose family couldn't afford new clothes, and so he had to wear his older brother's ill-fitting hand-me-downs; it doesn't really serve a purpose, and it's pretty mean-spirited, because anyone who has got a project this far off the ground at least deserves some encouragement. To be fair, Nevern managed to turn what is essentially YouTube-fodder into a commercially released feature, so good on him, even if I have no desire to watch the film again. The reception of this film as a scrawled blueprint could mean great things for Nevern's subsequent, hopefully more extravagant works. Terry begins a limited theatrical run tomorrow and is released on DVD on Monday and we're actually giving away copies of the film, HERE.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.