After two expansive productions featuring all-star casts, the J. G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) and the trigger happy action comedy Free Fire (2016), Ben Wheatley returns to the nit and grit of his early features with Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. Premiering in competition at the BFI London Film Festival, the film also reunites Wheatley with the star of his grisly low-budget crime thriller Kill List (2011), Neil Maskell. He plays Colin, an antsy man in his forties who makes the ill-fated decision to reel his far-flung family into a rented mansion on the English coast for a night of revelry that will all but inevitably devolve into anarchic verbal warfare.
The first round of reviews is fairly evenly split. For Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, Happy New Year is “perhaps Wheatley’s most totally satisfying film to date,” and at CineVue, Daniel Green calls the film “a sporadically hilarious, always absorbing descent into bickering hell.” But Jonathan Romney, noting in Screen that the cast shares a writing credit, suggests that “this bustling, rough-edged exercise has a distinct workshop feel to it, and a certain lack of novelty—as if [Mike Leigh’s] Secrets & Lies had been run through the stylistics of [Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration], without convincingly raising the ante on either.” And in the Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton argues that Wheatley’s “sporadically amusing semi-farce has a lively rhythm and some fine performances, but the baggy screenplay never delivers the emotional grace notes and knockout revelations it promises.”
Last month, the BBC announced that it’ll be broadcasting Happy New Year over the Christmas holidays—and that Wheatley is currently working on a series that will flesh out the characters and build on their narrative arcs. Even if Happy New Year is viewed as “an extended pilot,” as Variety’s Guy Lodge puts it, “it’s a pleasingly cinematic one: unresolved and ragged with small open wounds, but self-contained in its fevered, filling-to-burst energy. Suitably claustrophobic as an angry chamber piece, the film nonetheless feels, after the more elaborate, hyper-cool genre stylings of its director’s recent work, like a gasp of cold coastal air.”
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