Happy New Year, Colin Burstead review – Ben Wheatley contrives a simmering hothouse of misery

the Guardian | 10/13/2018 | Peter Bradshaw
Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is a hothouse flower of misery, sprouting dozens of resentment-buds under artificially controlled conditions. It is a tense ensemble drama, with intriguing echoes of Alan Ayckbourn and Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen; Laurie Rose’s handheld camerawork is intimate and dynamic, and it is written by Wheatley himself with contributions from a really strong cast.

First among equals is the excellent Neil Maskell, who appeared in Wheatley’s 2011 breakthrough, the horror nightmare Kill List. Working with Wheatley, Maskell proved he is so much more than the geezer roles in which our industry might otherwise have confined him, and I almost wonder if, just as Leonardo DiCaprio is thought to be the acting-avatar of Christopher Nolan, and Johnny Depp the projection of Tim Burton, so Maskell might come to be thought of as Wheatley’s own onscreen alter ego, a Mr Hyde to his Dr Jekyll: sceptical, alienated, pulsating with controlled energy.

Minute - Film - Something - Interest - Frame

Every minute of this film has something of interest, every frame is well composed. And yet I admit I found there was something a bit contrived and unreal about it, like an epic improv session. Maskell is Colin Burstead himself, a stressed middle-aged bloke who has decided for complex, ambiguous reasons to host a big New Year’s eve party for his extended family at a rented country house. He keeps piously talking about the importance of “family”, but with a face like thunder, as if this is trying his saintly patience.

Colin’s parents are there, played by Bill Paterson and Doon Mackichan, and from the very first there is trouble. Both radiate victimised dissatisfaction. Colin’s dad has apparently borrowed money from Colin for some doomed business venture and now...
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