SXSW Review: Tony

By  · Published on March 21st, 2010

The greatest part about film festivals is never the parties, the press networking, interviewing filmmakers, or even sneak peeks of major releases. The best part of film festivals is catching small, interesting films that, prior to the festival, you knew nothing about. I had never heard of a British film called Tony; no buzz did I behold on any horror site and even when it was announced as part of the slate the publicity was oddly stifled. I really didn’t expect much from it, a bias based on nothing other than the fact that I had never heard of it and no one was talking it up. Despite my completely unfounded preconceived notion, Tony was an unassuming little film that knocked me on my ass.

Tony is the story of a socially inept loner living in London. He is a misfit of sorts who can’t hold a job and barely functions in the normal world. He has no friends, no family, and spends all of his free time watching action films on VHS. Actually as pathetic as the rest of his existence is, it’s hard for me to judge him on that last point. The movie takes place over the course of just a few days in the life of this introvert and documents his chance encounters with other people; something typically unheard of for him. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes clear that Tony is leading a deadly double life.

I really liked this film. It’s very quiet and simplistic, but introspectively probes an old horror standard: the serial killer. Tony works doubly well in so much as it offers some legitimate surprises that grow so organically out of the material that they don’t even feel like twists. The film’s British DVD case lists the full title as Tony: London Serial Killer so the fact that he murders people is neither a spoiler nor a secret. In fact, the tension in this otherwise unassuming film comes from the fact that we know going in that he is a serial killer and we therefore wonder, whenever he is in a room with another person, when he will strike. It’s a really engrossing concept that falters not one iota on execution.

The performance of Peter Ferdinando in the title role is something truly remarkable. He seamlessly swaps between hapless milquetoast and lunatic. The really fascinating thing about the way he plays Tony is that the question of the validity of his wimpy personality is left unanswered. The best part of watching the film is examining each scene and forming your own conclusion on this matter. We don’t get a lot of character study horror films anymore and to see one done with such craft and care was really wonderful.

There are so many more things I want to say about this film but I feel like any number of them would spoil some of the better surprises contained within. What I will say is that the film is set for an American DVD release in April and I urge you to at least give it a spin via your local video store. At a scant 76 minute run time, it won’t monopolize much of your time; sort of an enhanced short film really.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.