Happy New Year, Colin Burstead has a promising start. The different family members in their different locations who are all heading to the same event - a reunion in Dorset - seem appropriately argumentative, disappointed, and quirky for the storm of shit we know is about to come. The premise is extremely familiar, but the film also seems aware of this, as it teases the audience with the potential arrival of David, a black sheep with bad tendencies.
Colin Burstead, who has organised the whole event and according to some of his relatives has deliberately staged it at an old aristocratic house to flaunt his new money, did not invite David. His sister, Gini, confusingly did, thinking it would be nice for their Mother, who in a brilliant character introduction, falls down on the front step of the house and from thereon pushes herself around in a wheelchair. But like her, the film falters. The sketches we have of the characters in the preliminary scenes are never developed. Their anger and disgruntlement at each other goes from naturalism to clichéd soap opera territory without warning. Tension never builds. The overarching problem may be that Happy New Year, Colin Burstead tries to ‘say something’.
As a genre filmmaker, with his first film Down Terrace and the comedy Sightseers, Wheatley is most effective. A byproduct of this success is a quantity of hype that has since manifested as something like: not needing to make sense. In a drama like this one, it is a fatal stylistic choice. Going back to Wheatley’s DIY routes, all we have is the characters, and characters need to make sense even when their world doesn’t. Underneath all the bluster and needling there is the feeling that the entire Burstead family prefers David to Colin. The motivation for this is so thin and unconvincing that after Colin banishes David from the house (for doing something pretty bad) and everyone turns on him - all you can draw upon is an abstract point about family and injustice and the burden of belonging. Wheatley either thinks he can get away with incoherence, or that his film is stronger for the fact. When you know you can count on four star reviews, it makes no difference.