Last year’s hit Brit horror thriller Eden Lake struck a contemporary nerve by showing a middle-class couple terrorised by a gang of feral teenagers. That’s one of the biggest fears around today, isn’t it: the old(er) feeling threatened by the young, the haves running scared of the have-nots? Well, Scottish filmmaker Richard Jobson has turned this scenario on its head with his low-budget chase movie New Town Killers. This time it’s the young and underprivileged who are under threat, and it’s the rich who are dishing out the psychopathic violence.
Played with swaggering menace by Dougray Scott, Jobson’s chief psycho belongs to a tribe that’s an even bigger bête noire, right now, than feral kids: he’s a private banker. Scott’s Alistair is about to hire city slicker Jamie (Monarch of the Glen's Alastair Mackenzie) to join his Edinburgh firm (called, with bitter irony, Ethical Finances), but first Jamie must prove his worth by joining Alistair in a 12-hour game of hide and seek with a hapless youth plucked from society’s margins.
Their target is James Anthony Pearson’s 16-year-old orphan Sean, who lives with his feckless sister in a grim tower block on the city’s outskirts. They offer him £12,000, enough to clear his sister’s debts. All he has to do in return is stay out of their clutches until nine the following morning.
As the chase gets underway, however, Sean quickly learns that the stakes are far higher than he had imagined…
The amoral hunter in pursuit of a human quarry has been a favourite subject for the movies ever since The Most Dangerous Game in 1932, when Leslie Banks’ sadistic Count Zaroff stalked Joel McCrea’s shipwrecked prey. With nods, too, to the kinetic pleasures of video games, Jobson brings the genre thrillingly up to date.
Shooting on digital film, he makes effective use of his Edinburgh locations, from grandiose townhouses on the well-heeled cobbled streets of the city’s Georgian New Town to squalid high-rises in the suburbs. And he energetically cranks up the suspense with a series of street-level pursuits and rooftop chases as Sean desperately seeks to evade his hunters.
Too often, however, Jobson seems content to hit the pause button on the action to allow his characters to speechify, with Scott’s Alistair much given to clunky-sounding rants on class and power. The writer-director, who started out as a teenage punk star with The Skids before becoming a model, TV presenter and then filmmaker, clearly has his heart in the right place, but he wears his social conscience a little too much on his sleeve for the good of his film.
Yet as an exercise in micro-budget genre filmmaking, New Town Killers is worthy of applause and well deserves an audience – far more so than the repellent and alarmingly successful movies churned out by Nick Love, whose last film, Outlaw plumbed a particular low in gloating vigilante violence.
Jobson forcefully puts across the idea that members of the so-called underclass are socially invisible, and so easy prey for the likes of Alistair, whose sense of superiority and entitlement can’t help but remind the viewer of our bankers and politicians.
In the end, though, neither Alistair nor his game are particularly credible and New Town Killers doesn’t grip or chill nearly so successfully as the more plausible Eden Lake. Then again, perhaps I find Eden Lake scarier and more believable because I can identify far more closely with that film’s middle-class couple than with New Town Killers’ deprived teenage protagonist.
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A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.