One of the most prolific and distinctive British filmmakers of recent years, Ben Wheatley has been diligently ploughing his own furrow and leaving his mark on the film industry for some time now.
Though he has tried his hand at many genres, Wheatley’s work, often produced in partnership with wife and co-screenwriter Amy Jump, can generally be summed up as thematically dark, bleak in outlook, violent and intense, but also typified by a self-aware mischievousness and a liberal use of gallows humour.
Wheatley’s versatility and graft as a filmmaker won him a place on our 10 Directors with 3 or More Great Films of the 2010s list, and now we at The Film Magazine have ranked Ben Wheatley’s eclectic directorial filmography to date, from worst to best, least to most batshit crazy.
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9. Free Fire (2016)
A collective of incompetent hitmen, mercenaries and arms dealers have a fateful and messy meetup in a warehouse, the ensuing carnage that follows is documented with barely a pause for breath.
It’s impressive that they purpose-built a Boston warehouse in the UK and dressed it so convincingly with debris, not to mention how all the actors seem to be having fun playing broad 1970s stereotypes wearing garish threads and sporting bad hair. But aside from the love-to-hate entertainment value of Sharlto Copley’s Vern and the natural charm of Cillian Murphy’s Chris, the characters just aren’t interesting or memorable enough to be compelling.
It’s possible for a continuous action scene spanning an entire film to keep you engaged (just look at The Raid or Mad Max: Fury Road) but here the action rapidly becomes incomprehensible and quite monotonous too, as amusing as it is to see so many supposed tough guys hobbling around and failing to shoot straight. It doesn’t take long to lose track of where everyone is and how injured they are in the film’s one and only warehouse location, which is a problem, though it does make it funnier that the characters frequently shout out to get answers to the same questions.
8. Down Terrace (2009)
A Brighton-based gangster family faces turmoil when the boss and his heir apparent return home from prison and find treachery in their midst, as well as particularly violent family squabbles on the horizon.
This is a perfectly serviceable gritty gangster flick, but it doesn’t feel particularly unique or cinematic. The cast and their highly dysfunctional chemistry are on-point (especially Robin Hill as the unstable nominal lead Karl) and the acts of violence we witness almost under duress are particularly nasty and without an iota of glamorisation.
You would not want to mess with these guys, or meet them on the street, or spend much time let alone a whole movie with them, which is quite unfortunate for Down Terrace.
7. Rebecca (2020)
Not a patch on Hitchcock but still a distinctive take on Daphne DuMaurier’s gothic classic. This also has the misfortune of starring Armie Hammer as a character who’s a creepy abuser since… everything that has been alleged about him since.
Casting-wise it’s Hammer who seems the most out of his depth here as Maxim de Winter, but Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as an icy Mrs Danvers and Lily James gives her protagonist more agency and resolve than this story’s lead usually has in other adaptations.
It could have certainly been Wheatley-er, mostly lacking his usual macabre sensibilities, but his style does seep through the cracks, particularly in a striking dream sequence in the second act, and the production design and lighting is impeccable throughout and in service to the generally great performances.
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