Review: Terry – a fly on the wall peak at London’s street culture

Writer/ director/ actor Nick Nevern has definitely found a platform to show himself off: playing the role of London yob Terry in this faux-documentary drama about a dodgy london geezer and his ‘friendship group’ cum clan. They are hooligans and this is a close up and dirty portrayal of yob culture; street thugs with knives, drugs and attitudes. The film is essentially a gritty fly on the wall peak at Terry’s chaotic life and it’s an absolute masterclass on how to make a film on budget, shot on a camcorder and with a budget of less than £500! It could be perceived as a “happy-slap” flick, but honestly, it is much more than that.

Our camera man is introduced; given a name, Charlie, and a face – metal studded with a goatee, he looks much rougher than he sounds. He’s a film student making a documentary for his end of year showcase. He never really elaborates on his exact purpose behind filming Terry and crew, but it is implied that it’s kind of a social experiment, “a human study”. His subject: a sturdy, bald bloke with a predilection for cigarettes and the word ‘fuck’. He’s the very definition of streetwise and he doesn’t take any shit.

This is Terry. He’s a waster. He gets up in his dingy apartment, sparks a fag and then brushes his teeth with his finger over the kitchen sink. He drinks 90% of the day, and the other 10% he does coke. When Terry is around, a knife is never out of reach and things can turn sour, from amiable banter to violence, in an instant. He meanders from party to party with no ambition besides a drink and a good time. It’s a different life, a different culture, and it has different rules – specifically: there are none. Spencer is like the damaged chick Terry has taken under his wing. He’s a wannabe playboy who ends up spending most of his dough on prostitutes, and he sticks to Terry like glue. The two are “basically” best friends. Billy Black is a wannabe gangsta thinking he’s a wise guy. He talks the talk but he can’t walk the walk. He pisses Terry off.

These are the three central protagonists, and although we are slowly introduced to the rest of Terry’s posse, these are the three with whom most of the dramatic action takes place. There’s a lot of testosterone motivating these macho characters, and with so much conflict between the main parties things are inevitably going to get out of hand.

Terry walks a fine line that may not even exist, between a raw, brutal drama and a feel-good buddy movie. Yes it’s brutal, it’s savage and it’s totally unapologetic, but it’s never very intense. It retains an almost light-hearted and nonchalant air throughout, which is a relief because in a different light the content could have been too dark to watch. Instead Nevern finds humour in the unlikeliest of places and it’s difficult not to be swept up in the groups good natured jibing, and nonsensical banter. The chances are you’ll find yourself grinning at the most inappropriate times!

Much like Man Bites Dog, the fantastic french faux-doc about a serial killer, Terry approaches it’s subject with no prejudice and no rule book and it encourages the viewer to do likewise. Also similarly to that film, the camera man Charlie starts out determined to remain distanced from his subjects but is inevitably engaged by them, influenced by them at times, which makes for an interesting visualisation of the effects of peer pressure, affecting both the camera man and the viewer totally subconsciously.

As with most films shot in this handheld style, usually ‘found footage’ horror ventures, the shaky camera work is occasionally over-exaggerated to the point of distraction and in an effort to remain realistic, the voices aren’t always clear in the sound mix, particularly in the pubs and clubs they visit in the first part of the film. (This could also be attributable to the aforementioned £500 budget!). However, the real achilles heel of Terry is actually the pacing. When the action kicks off it is extremely gripping and easy to watch, but it’s a long time before anything really grabs your attention. In fact, I think this is a flaw recognised by the film makers as the film begins with an unnecessary and in hindsight, quite jarring false start, presumably with the intention of sparking some interest before a low key first forty minutes.

For a certificate 18, Terry is surprisingly un-graphic and inoffensive. It is littered with almost constant drug abuse, and every other word is a swear word, but there is no gore and practically no sex, although the one sex scene is a grotty threesome. It’s likely the reason it has been donned such a high certificate is the realistic and cavalier attitude of the characters towards drugs and violence. There is no underlying moral about a correct code of conduct here, nothing to indicate whether their behaviour is acceptable or not, and without a negative stance towards these things, the BBFC will always designate certificates harshly, and perhaps quite rightly too.

Terry is a film that could have gone in so many directions, and the final route it ended up taking might not be the best one. To borrow a phrase from Downey Jr., there are vaguely sinister undertones to the beginning of the movie, Terry is described as “not human”, and is often seen apart from the group, introverted. Or in the midst of a lively evening out, we’ll catch a glimpse of him, staring savagely, suddenly possessed by some inner turmoil and rage.

Everybody seems to respect Terry but as the film progresses you realise that the ‘respect’ is actually fear. People are afraid of him, of his irrational mood swings and sudden bouts of aggression. Terry will batter you for looking at him the wrong way and then carry on laughing. Terry’s mental instability seems to escalate throughout, and at times he goes totally haywire. His state of mind could have been an interesting avenue for the film makers to explore – indeed, initially I thought the film was a portrayal of one mans gradual descent in to insanity through a storm of drug and alcohol abuse. But not so. Nevern had other ideas in mind and in the final act, the film seems to veer off at a tangent and resolve itself in a manner quite unexpected.

Terry is out on DVD now.

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