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Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
★★☆☆☆
First run Airline

Ben Wheatley (SightseersHigh-RiseFree Fire) takes a break from his recent focus on bloody, darkly comic thrillers and gets back to his low-budget social realism roots with Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. But this filmmaker celebrated for subverting expectations doesn’t attempt even the slightest reinvention of the ensemble dysfunctional family gathering sub-genre. The film features Neil Maskell (star of Wheatley’s acclaimed Kill List) as the titular Colin, a married new father who rents a posh country house in Dorset for a family New Year’s Eve celebration. Little does he know his sister Gini (Hayley Squires) has invited their estranged brother David (Sam Riley) to join the party. Many other members of the extended family clan have their own secrets too, which also come to a head this night.

Ensemble pictures set within a short fixed time period like this one—be they comedies like August: Osage County or dramas like The Big Chill—can be judged by how often the filmmaker needs to jump from one subplot to another in order to keep the movie alive. By that standard, this is a pretty week picture despite fine performances by its mostly British cast. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead has the look and feel of one of those projects where a bunch of talented actors get together for a tiny amount of shooting days to improvise around a loose script with guidance from a director possessing no visual plan apart from having a couple of hand-held cameras continuously filming everything, and the results then assembled into some kind of shape in the editing room. Certainly, there are examples when this aesthetic has resulted in an excellent movie—James Ward Byrkit’s psychological sci-fi chiller Coherence (2013) comes to mind—but, on the whole, movies like this are a dime a dozen these days. If you expect something more original from Wheatley, you’re out of luck this time.

Twitter Capsule:
Wheatley's surprisingly generic dysfunctional-family-gathering-drama is a shapeless reminder of why ensemble movies, be they comedies or dramas, should be judged by how often they must jump from one subplot to another to keep us interested.

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Produced by Andrew Starke

Written by Ben Wheatley

With: Neil Maskell, Sura Dohnke, Nicole Nettleingham, Doon Mackichan, Bill Paterson, Hayley Squires, Mark Monero, Richard Glover, Sudha Bhuchar, Vincent Ebrahim, Sinead Matthews, Sarah Baxendale, Charles Dance, Joe Cole, Peter Ferdinando, Asim Chaudhry, Sam Riley, and Alexandra Maria Lara

Cinematography: Laurie Rose
Editing: Ben Wheatley
Music: Clint Mansell

Runtime: 95 min
Release Date: 30 December 2018
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color