Veteran detective Eddie Argo (Stellan Skarsgård) and his new partner Helen Wescott (Melissa George) meet at the scene of a homicide. The pregnant girlfriend of a known thug has been found murdered and further investigating reveal a serial killer at work with a taste for torture. As the pair try to figure out who is behind the killing and why, things get personal when they find that this serial killer is not picking the victims at random, all of them being key players in a past criminal case Eddie had fumbled. The killer seems to be serving out a form of perverted justice while simultaneously using the victims to test out a mathematical equation.
Tom Shankland makes his directorial debut with this grimy crime thriller that takes place in one of the bigger shitholes in my recent memory. Making the city featured in Se7en look like Key West, Shankland creates an urban landscape that looks like it was gone over with a Photoshop grunge brush and then soaked in a wino’s urine. Every structure is bleak and nihilistic, where even the cleaner environments still come off looking like they have a thin layer of grim on them. It really helps set the overall mood of the film, especially since the NYPD Blue, handheld camera technique is employed, making you as if you are watching the film while laying in a sewage-filled gutter.
Shankland enhances this by using his ear for environmental sound to create some pretty intense scenes in some dilapidated buildings inhabitated by denizens who clutch the lowest rungs of society. Among the many darkened floors of a building, screaming and yelling between people unseen, the jarring sounds of clanking metal or slamming doors echoing up through the dirty stairwells. These effects make these scenes just as suspenseful and unnerving as the film’s big-budget counterparts. That being said, it is a shame that some of this audio detail had not been applied to some of the dialog. I found many scenes containing key conversations was just too hard to hear.
I’m not a big fan of torture films. Not for any real reason aside from the most part they are just a bit too gimmicky for them to be real effective on me. But I will give WAZ (also known as The Killing Gene) credit where credit is due, a couple scenes in this film made me physically wince. Now before you go into this thinking that WAZ is another Hostel, it is not. The torture shown in the film has more of a purpose here than some form of shock value or centerpiece, the reasons behind the killer’s actions based around the mathematical description of evolution and natural selection called the Price equation. While this fact wont stop the comparisons to other films like Se7en and Saw, as they are fair comparisons – although more with the former than the latter – keep in mind that the majority of this film is the investigation itself as Eddie and Helen try to figure out who is committing the murders and then midway through the film, figure out why. The actual scenes of torture are not the highlight of the film, even though they are intense, and the real kicker doesn’t happen until the final act.
What really puts this film into my category of Ashley Walters, a good looking guy who has a pretty prominent role and will undoubtedly be showing up in more featured roles. Selma Blair does her usual, which is not a bad thing in this case. The rest of the cast do fairly well, especially Tom Hardy as street thug Pierre and fellow detective Jack, played by Tom Hardy.that I would recommend, is the performances of some of the key cast. In particular, Stellan’s portrayal of Eddie. What starts off as your standard grizzled detective that you have seen in about a gazillion police detective films, ends up developing into something much more. By the end of the film, the solemn, gravelly-voiced Eddie becomes more than a police film cliche and more of a fully realized character sold by Stellan’s convincing performance. Keep an eye on
If I could have wished for anything, it would have been for some of the character motives to have been a bit more clear because as it stands some of it is a bit muddied, possibly by some almost inaudible exchanges mentioned earlier. Too much time is spent on this equation and I cannot help but feel that some of the importance Clive Bradley intended did not come across well in the final product. But this seemingly major stickler does not make the film any less enjoyable, it just makes it a bit less clever. It is still a gritty detective thriller for those of you who can forgive a few plotholes and the absence of accurate police procedure…and can stomach a bit of torture. Oh, btw, fans of the book Heartsick (our review) may want to check it out as well, as there are many comparisons. Keep an eye out for this director. His follow up was the excellent killer kid flick, The Children (our review). Not a bad start at all.