Friday, September 9, 2011

Movie review: Tony, London Serial Killer (2009)


A socially-inept, moustachioed loner struggles to fit into society and when his attempts at friendship are rebuffed, he resorts to murder most horrid.  And so begins the tale of Tony, London Serial Killer, the directorial debut of Gerard Johnson.

You're doing WHAT in your sink?

My, what a debut it is.  Peter Ferdinando plays the titular outcast, his face an almost-emotionless mask of confusion, struggling to work out in his mind how to interact, to become normal.  The film starts with him befriending a couple of druggie smack-heads as they burn-up in Tony's depressingly dingy flat.  He hasn't quite figured out the personal boundaries of people, passing a glass of squash into one of the young scrote-bags face while he's trying to shoot up. After being angrily shouted at and while the young lad is comatose on the sofa, zonked out on drugs, Tony proceeds to place a plastic bag over the young lads head before dragging the body into the bedroom for a 'lie-down'.

It's normal.  That's what makes it so terrifying.  Tony's limited mental capacity takes the angry rebuffs at his reaching out for friendship and affection as a problem with the other person and for that, they should be swatted as simply as one might a fly.  Even the body disposal is undertaken with routine awkwardness, sawing through innards with a blunt knife to make it fit into a plastic carrier bag, ready for stuffing down drains or into the murky depths of the Thames.  He mutters under his breath while doing so, his utterances deep, dark and angry.

Cruising gay pubs is a fertile ground for would-be suitors and Tony, with his Freddie Mercury moustache, slight demeanour and odd clothes, is certainly popular amongst the party scene.  Danger is impalpable to the men whom he picks up.  Waking up to a corpse one morning, Tony casually asks the unknown (quite dead) male if he would like breakfast as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

There is no real 'story' to Tony, the person and the film.  He and it just .. 'are'.  Living on the periphery of society has allowed him to remain hidden and unseen and morbidly alone.  Turner once said 'Man is a social animal' and it's that instinctive drive forcing Tony into situations he's clearly uncomfortable with.  He barely knows the difference between right and wrong and he certainly feels no guilt.  He is addicted to violent videotapes and regularly quotes passages from said movies, as if he has no other form of communication.  A sociopath is probably the nearest clinical description but like Hannibal Lector, 'monster' is closer to the freshly-limed, just-butchered bone. 

Even so, there is an element to him that you can't help emphasise with.  Forgotten and ignored by just about everyone, even those whom he comes into contact with treat him with distain and anger and suspicion.  He only wants a friend, someone to talk to, someone who will love and care for him and yet, those nearest to him treat him like something they'd wipe off their shoe.  A visit to a prostitute results in him being thrown out on his ear for daring to ask for 'just a cuddle'.  Is it Tony's fault he's like he is?  Or is it the very society shunning him?

As the plot progresses, the human jungle that Tony has found himself on the outside of, starts to intrude.  A child goes missing on the rough estate where Tony lives and concerned citizens turn their eyes to the furtive loner with the barred and locked doors.  A TV licensing man turns up and threatens to take away Tonys beloved colour portable telly.  A kindly neighbour offers him a place at their Sunday dinner table.  His benefit money comes under threat unless he makes more of an effort to find work, something that he has managed to elude for his entire life.  Will Tonys secrets come spilling out and the awful truth behind the blocked and smelly drains shock everyone to the core or will Tony be able to melt back into his semi-existence, killing at will?

A large part of the film is shot on a handy-cam and the dialogue is improvised.  This gives the film a very authentic, gritty feel to it, almost like a documentary and we are intruding on Tony's private business.  It's squalid and dank and life in these sprawling high-rise conurbations is no picnic.  The gore is barely shown and kept to a minimum, no doubt reflecting the extremely low budget.  We see some of the kills, not all, and we see some of the inevitable detritus of an active serial killer at large, but not all.  Dismembered limbs, whole stomach tracts (that could have come from a pig, for all we know) and .. that's about it.  It's understated and director Johnson (also the writer) keeps to the old adage of 'less is more'.

There's are obvious parallels to be made between Tony and Dennis Nilson, the serial killer who preyed on and killed a multitude of men before leaving them for the rats and local Dyno-Rod operatives.  As Nilson, the true figure for Tony may never be truly known as we see him in a small snapshot of his hopeless, sad and pathetic life.  Nilson himself was only rumbled after the smell from the drains is discovered to be decomposing body parts and Tony struggles to maintain an aura of decorum and innocence when the smell around his domicile is increasingly questioned.

My Opinion

It's not without its faults.  Several scenes played out too long, no doubt due to the improvisational nature.  A couple of the plot strands were left hanging but then, doesn't that happen in 'real-life' anyway?  The conclusion will divide.  It did in our household anyway and while I could at least understand the reasoning, my wife hated it.  It's almost Brett Easton Ellis-like in its brazenness.

Tony London Serial Killer is a real affecting film and the images, while tame compared to the likes of say, Saw or Hostel, stay with you long after the closing credits.  Tony, the person that is, is something of an enigma, and viewer affection will swing wildly from deep sympathy to abject horror and repulsion.  A lot of that is down to Peter Ferdinando's depiction.  He's truly mesmerising and it's difficult to separate the actor from the character.

The film reaches far beyond the gritty exterior and provides a talking point for hours afterwards.  Not many movies can claim to provoke that reaction.  Take Harry Brown for example, that odious piece trying to make some kind of statement about youth and gang culture but missing wildly of the mark.  Here, while the locations are vaguely similar (drab and sprawling London Council estates) that statement is much more .. understated (pardon the pun) and is much more effective because of it. 

Recommended.  I have to give it 5 stars, if only to reflect the impact the movie, and particular Peter Ferdinando as Tony, caused.  Open minds only though.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 1 hour and 16 minutes

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