Happy New Year Colin Burstead review: Ben Wheatley’s feature output has been nothing but unpredictable in the last number of years. From gritting crime-horrors early in his career with the likes of Kill List, through to the likes of J.G. Ballard adaptations with High Rise, and then the slightly more mainstream, though equally explosive Free Fire a couple of years back. His next film is another cinematic curve-ball – a family drama bordering on farce – a very pleasing, and laugh-out-loud funny feature set across one eventful evening on England’s south coast on New Years Eve.
One of the similarities between this and Wheatley’s early work is its excelling cast. Led by earlier collaborator Neil Maskell (so brilliant as Jay in Kill List) as the titular Colin, along with the likes of I, Daniel Blake’s break-out Hayley Squires, Free Fire alumni Sam Riley and a magnificent Charles Dance, as you’ve never seen him before, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead has all of the elements to make it stand out against from the pack. Stand out it does with a very simplistic approach, Wheatley’s self-penned script, with contributions from the cast on top – perhaps suggesting large input of improvisation – all performed during a shoot that reportedly took place over just two weeks earlier in 2018.
The location is Dorset on December 31st where Colin has arranged a huge family get-together in a country mansion to celebrate the countdown to the new year. During the first few scenes we discover that there aren’t too many of them who are looking forward to the celebrations, many of them having to drive for hours just to get to the venue. On the list of attendees is Colin’s mother and father (Doon Mackichan and Bill Paterson). It’s evident that his dad has ulterior motives to joining proceedings, and is after a large sum of money to throw into his business, something that Colin has clearly helped him out with before. There’s also a younger sister, Gini (Squires) and her husband Warren (Mark Monero), and Gini, it seems, has thrown a spanner into the already collapsing works by inviting estranged brother Dave (Sam Riley), who has confirmed that he will attend. This news, which only reaches his family at the party, sends shock waves through his relatives, one by one, as each of them learns of his pending arrival.
What Wheatley does best is create this huge sense of foreboding through the narrative structure largely because of this particular plot point – what has Dave done (?), we ask ourselves as the full reveal of the character’s previous actions that have impacted his family don’t present themselves until well into the first half. With us being fully aware of what Wheatley can do with his films, we find ourselves constantly on edge during the film’s relatively tight 95 minute running time, but make no mistake, the British filmmaker is taking us on a very different journey here.
While that threat never really comes, there’s a lot going on to please, including many laugh-out-loud moments. The performances are top notch, particularly Maskell and Squires as the butting siblings at the centre of the action. Riley is more reserved, but behind those pretty eyes are perhaps something else bubbling under the surface – or is it something completely different to what we expect? His performance is also one I’ve returned to in my mind since its initial viewing, and also the turn from screen veteran Charles Dance as the much-loved Uncle Bertie – maybe the only family member pleased to actually be at the event.
It wasn’t a surprise to hear that Happy New Year, Colin Burstead will be heading to television over the festive season following a brief cinema run prior. It may be more suited to the small screen where it could and should be celebrated. There is promise that this brilliant pot-boiler may be the start of a series featuring the same actors. If this is true, I will be sure to be tuning in as I felt there is much more to be told with this group of intriguing characters. A brilliant told, and very welcomed departure from one of our best writer, directors. More please, Mr. Wheatley.
Happy New Year Colin Burstead review by Paul Heath, October 2018.
Happy New Year Colin Burstead was reviewed at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival.