Tony (Peter Ferdinando), long-term unemployed, wanders the streets, trying to talk to folks, failing to make anything of his life. Sometimes he kills people and keeps their corpses in his flat. When a child goes missing, the obvious oddball is naturally a suspect.
At once a British council estate take on Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and an attempt to demystify the bogeyman of most serial killer movies out there, this low-budget, shot-on-the-streets feature is built around a remarkable, deeply uncomfortable performance from Peter Ferdinando as one of those people you see around a lot but do your best to freeze out whenever they try to talk to you: a brown-toothed weirdo with a clipped moustache, an odd haircut and a suspicious carrier bag who comes across as a demented M. Hulot or Mr. Bean.
Like Dennis Nilsen, who is vaguely the model for the character, Ferdinando’s Tony kills for company — offering the corpse he has just slept with a nice cup of tea, watching 1980s action films on video (long after the rest of the world has switched to DVD) with dead bodies propped up next to him on the couch, throttling a licence inspector who threatens to confiscate his television with an electric flex, and — in a none-more-black joke — able to get away with multiple murder but given a hard time by a local lout who suspects that he might be a paedophile.
Director Gerard Johnson offers deadpan miserablism at its deadest, chronicling the grimmer side of Hackney in the era of the bendy bus, with a range of unpleasant characters (the missing kid’s bullying father, aggressively matey druggies) who probably deserve killing. Tony lets a few possible victims run off and takes no particular trouble to avoid detection even as he methodically cuts up corpses (for disposal in the canal or the river) which have been around too long. Ferdinando excels at squirm-inducing banality, especially in scenes where Tony tries to get a cut-rate cuddle from a prostitute or offers hospitality to a gay clubber who is willing to swap sex for a place to sleep over (when conversation runs out, Tony reaches for a hammer). Tony is a living fossil from some early ’80s Film On Four drama (Mike Leigh’s Meantime, say) about unemployment, tower blocks and urban decay (a social security worker is almost amused that he has claimed job-seekers’ allowance for so long) stranded among caaahnt-shouting chavs, hoodies and dealers more convincing than those in Harry Brown. After many films in which serial murderers are terrifying geniuses, it’s sobering to discover Tony — a total loser who kills people no-one cares about, and creeps under the official radar.
Not cheery, but gripping, against-the-odds funny and uncomfortably unique. Johnson and Ferdinando are certainly now names to watch.