Ben Wheatley diverts thematically with Happy New Year Colin Burstead, tackling less sombre terrain; a New Year’s Eve gathering opens a Pandora’s box of mayhem. Retaining some elements of the edginess and the depiction of human depravity that we are accustomed to by the director, but degrees lighter with a more conventionally personal subject matter.
Colin Burstead (Neil Maskell) hires a castle to host his whole extended family and their hangers-on. The family setting being the archetypal hot bed of resentment, as each guest arrives the dynamics and interplay continually morph to expose entrenched domestic power struggles. As old wounds are yanked right open and pent-up emotions surface, amplified further by heavy alcohol consumption, it all reaches a cacophonous crescendo of arguments, physical altercations and dramatic walk-outs.
Numerous plot threads interwoven in and out: controlling parents, acrimonious divorces, long-held bad-blood, sibling rivalry, unrequited love or a debt-ridden Lord (the owner of the castle) and thats just the half of it. With so many moving parts it expectedly becomes too convulted to keep track. Wheatley then, perplexingly chooses to untangle the whole mess with an ending that transcends the film, literally that is, by underwhelmingly treating us to what appears to be footage of the actual cast and crew wrap-up party. An ending that does have a semblance of the pandemonium in his stelar 2015 feature High Rise.
Some highlights come in the shape of the rather brilliant Doon Mackichan as the attention-seeking matriarch with her acerbic one-liners or her ditzy daughter Jini (a welcomed Hayley Squires) or her much-hated love-rat brother David (Sam Riley).
Admittedly even before its unsatisfactory ending, things weren't necessarily following an upward trajectory. From the very beginning there is a pervasive staged feeling; whether its the dialogue repeatedly dishing out one cliché after the next or the deliberate way each charcter is introduced assuming a stereotypical role within the family structure based on their gender, race, age; its obviousness verges on the cringe. Potential plot strands that could have proved interesting amount to nothing: the Brexiteer cousin, the cross-dressing Uncle Bertie (Charles Dance) or the debt-ridden gambling father, all inexplicably brushed to one side.
Comparing this film to Wheatley’s previous efforts, I would have imagined a stronger political commentary to seep through. There is a slight undercurrent of it, but overall its is never fully grasped. It is a shame, as political discussion within the familial context would have been something fresh and likely to resonate in the current state of affairs, especially if it was dressed in the twisted humour which is successfully peppered throughout the film. In its place comes longwinded domestics which granted at points are amusing but we’ve seen it all before, ten-fold and probably better executed.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead will be on BBCtwo on 30th December 2018.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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