Posted on Sunday, April 11th, 2010 by Hunter Stephenson
It’s a crazy, mixed up world and we are thankful for movies that offer proof. Slashfilm’s Weekend Weirdness examines such flicks, whether in the form of a premiere for a provocative indie, a mini review of a film about a murderous nerd, or an interview.
Another week, another serial killer film. The British import, Tony, follows the fictional killer in its title—a Londoner who resembles a malnourished Milton from Office Space—across several days and several murders. It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to focus on a mass murderer to boldly address social undercurrents or the culture at large and newcomer Gerard Johnson is content to follow. In his interview with /Film, Johnson dismissed the horror genre altogether to describe Tony, preferring to call it a “social realist thriller” and referencing Alan Clarke, the late master of violent, blue collar English cinema (Scum, Made in Britain). But there aren’t many thrills in Tony.
This is a male character that is forgotten—nay, never acknowledged—by society, left to his quiet ways for two decades for a reason: he’s unremarkable and socially inept. Tony never really lures men or women back to his crushingly quaint apartment; the universal law of averages simply has its way, like an equation for insects randomly landing on an unattractive plant (that is prone to strangulation and likes to nap with a corpse).
Having personally not spent a lot of time in London, I found the most haunting shot of the film to be of a massive low-income housing project where the character resides. The camera is objective enough in framing the size of the structure, in presenting its countless lifeless and identical compartments, but again the horror arises from the severe possibility of disenfranchisement gone awry.
Johnson never allows the viewer to get close to Tony (well played by Peter Ferdinando, the director’s cousin) and doesn’t set up exposition to hint at his wrecked psychology and formative years. The viewer is only permitted to observe the lonely existence that Tony shares with a small, white boxed television. And—in what I interpreted as a semi-forced reach for geek empathy and the geek marketplace—we observe Tony as he fondly watches VHS tapes of Hollywood action and genre movies.
Tony’s hobby seems created to initiate a subtle connection between the adolescent years of countless male indie directors and film lovers. And the character’s awkward attempts at making friendly banter with strangers similarly depends on his love of low-brow movies. But it’s a surface-level love that should have been more creatively and thoroughly explored by Johnson (though his film would then risk stronger accusations of pretentiousness), rather than limited to the name dropping of Jean-Claude Van Damme or an arbitrary mention of the 1989 obscure Gary Busey thriller Hider in the House (coincidentally the name of a British children’s game show featuring celebrities).
Thankfully, Tony does not have online access/awareness, otherwise, he might fit the profile of a Talk Backer. Another fault of the film lies in the way it posits this luddite murderer—who could exist in the ’80s, ’70s, or ’50s—in the present. Several shots of Tony have him walking blankly and slowly past a large, electronic Sanyo sign or into a modern gay nightclub. Johnson aspires to say something profound about present day London by having the city speak for itself, and by channeling commentary into minor characters.
An obese man argues with a broad in a pub and later viewers (and Tony) see the man carelessly and drunkenly searching the city for his young boy. Anglo teenage hooligans peruse Tony’s apartment to smoke crack and pass out. A young cop’s instincts and olfactory senses are sidetracked by being too overworked or overconfident. If Tony was overseen by Alan Clarke, the character’s interactions with society would be reserved but far more charged in meaning and commentary. The static between city and character would give Tony relevance and power equal to his dysfunctional, poorly designed environments. Here, the balance is tipped. Johnson’s film benefits from its sense of place, but once indoors it’s oft-difficult to separate the meaningless of Tony’s life and violent acts from the meaningless of the context on screen.
A few scenes involving post mortem butchering are reminiscent in their graphic nature to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher 3. There’s also a worthwhile score by The The that while near the ranks of scores to Halloween or Taxi Driver, is effective enough to make a cup of tea unsettling or, for that matter, a bespectacled fruit of a man illegally tossing plastic bags into the River Thames. There could be trash in the man’s bags, or body parts. Best to simply look elsewhere, go about your day, and enjoy a movie in the evening.
For previous installments of Weekend Weirdness, here.
Tony – London Serial Killer is now available on DVD and iTunes. For more info, here.
Hunter Stephenson can be followed on Twitter. To send him a screener or an NYC screening invitation: h.attila/gmail.