SXSW 2010 Review: 'Tony'


Most of our favorite horror villains are predators. They could be zombies, rabid dogs, vampires, or plain old psychotics -- but a large part of what makes monsters scary is that they actively come after you with malice in mind. The murderer known as Tony (in the UK thriller of the same name) is not a predator -- but that doesn't make him any less dangerous.

Tony is an oddball loner just like the ones you see on any city street corner. These guys (and gals) aren't exactly "crazy," as in raving and frothing, but they're certainly weird. They'll strike up conversations with you as you buy a newspaper, or they'll mumble to themselves while riding on public transportation. These types almost never seem dangerous ... but they're certainly odd enough to be wary of. Tony is one of these people. All but obsessed with action films and living off the taxpayers' dime, poor loner Tony is forced to get a job and join the real world, which leads to a few unpleasant situations.

There's also a missing kid in the neighborhood, not to mention the case of a recently-vanished junkie, and Tony's safe little bubble seems ready to pop -- and it's cool to note that first-time writer/director Gerard Johnson has a few quiet tricks up his sleeve.

Clocking in at a brisk 74 minutes, Tony is a chilly but slyly compelling little horror/thriller that works wonders with a minimalistic story and an excellent lead performance by Peter Ferdinando. (He's weird enough to be interesting but human enough to deserve a little empathy. Perhaps very little.)

It'd be fitting to call Tony a horror story mixed with a Mike Leigh film, but I can't take credit for that assessment. (Tony director Gerard Johnson made that connection before I did.) The film is little more than a short and serious character piece that earns its chills through quiet and subtle means. Tony is not one of the regular "go out and stalk people" sort of lunatic ... but woe is anyone who happens  to wander into the guy's apartment. (Double woe to anyone who messes with his television!) The result is a low-key but surprisingly intense psycho-thriller that manages to get under your skin by way of some rather sly and effective tricks.

I don't know if I'd make the Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer comparison that the festival guides do, but Johnson is clearly working from a variety of disparate influences ... and his debut feature is an impressively restrained and quietly disturbing little flick. And, again, the lead actor is nothing short of hypnotic -- and that helps a lot.