At just 72 minutes, this British counterpart to John McNaughton’s deathlessly brilliant Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer gives itself little time to really give us an insight into its central character, the eponymous Tony (Peter Ferdinando). Tony appears to be in his early 30’s, he lives alone on jobseekers allowance in London, with few interests aside from watching action movies on his old VCR (it’s not clear exactly when the film is set, but it seems to be roughly contemporary, and certainly in the 21st century). He also, from time to time, kills people.
Writer/director Gerard Johnson presents this character with no comment and little real plot (there is a loose thread about a missing child), largely allowing the film to unfold in a series of vignettes as Tony goes from place to place, either to be – at least as he would see it – victimised (at the job centre, at a job interview, by a prostitute when he asks ‘how much for a cuddle?’) or to collect victims (two drug addicts, a man he picks up in a gay bar). Johnson gives the film a grimily reaslistic and downbeat aesthetic, helped along by Ferdinando’s glum and inheld performance and an effective score by The The, but the ghost of Henry looms large here, and Tony never escapes its big brother’s shadow.
Where Tony misses out is in giving us a real insight into its main character. Even when he kills there is little change in his register, and neither Johnson nor Ferdinando ever give us any idea of why he kills, or even how long he’s been doing it. Perhaps this is what the film is trying to suggest; the utter banality of this pathetic, murderous little man, and how little he is affected even by the most extreme of acts, but I’m clutching at straws there, because it is only the absence of insight that suggests this, and frankly that makes for weak drama.
Even in its brief running time, Tony settles into a rather predictable rut; Tony goes out, someone victimises him in some usually very minor way, a little later Tony meets someone and kills them, then gets rid of the remains. The subplot about the missing boy threatens to enliven the film from time to time, but Johnson does little with it, and the expected confrontation never comes.
Peter Ferdinando is good here, and the rest of the cast all do commendably natural work too (bar, perhaps, a cop towards the end of the film, though that may just have been because I was tired of watching what amounted to yet another iteration of the same character shouting at Tony). Gerard Johnson’s aim – something along the lines of a social realist serial killer movie – is interesting, and if you’ve never seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer then this might work for you, but if you have seen that much richer film then Tony is likely to seem, as it did to me, a disappointing echo of a great movie.