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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Tom Shankland|
scr Clive Bradley
with Stellan Skarsgård, Melissa George, Ashley Walters, Selma Blair, John Sharian, Tom Hardy, Paul Kaye, Sally Hawkins, Marcus Valentine, Michael Liebman, Brian Jordaan, Michael Wildman
release UK 22.Feb.08
07/UK Vertigo 1h43
To catch a killer: George and Skarsgard
With his ambitious first feature, director Shankland launches himself into the industry with energy to spare. It's a little misguided, but you can't help but admire his fierce sense of style.
In New York, grizzled detective Eddie (Skarsgard) is working with rookie Helen (George) on a series of grisly murders. The bodies have been carved with the letters W-delta-Z, which turns out to be part of a genetic survival theory being studied by a creepy scientist (Kaye). The killings are clearly not random, tracing back to a vicious assault on a woman (Blair) by a group of thugs (including Walters, Hardy and Hawkins) who all walked free. And Eddie seems to be a bit too connected to them.
The central premise grips us with the idea that love might be nothing more than an expression of survival--a theory tested in horrific ways. Shankland creates a startlingly edgy and kinetic visual tone with jarring camera work and machine-gun editing. He knowingly deploys every cop-movie cliche while also indulging in genuinely unsettling torture-porn gruesomeness. And he cleverly casts a rain-drenched Belfast as the hosed-down Manhattan.
But the other casting is more problematic: the global actors never quite nail anything close to an American accent. They get their characters right, so as the film progresses, we get used to the strangled vowels, but it does undermine the authenticity. Of course, Blair doesn't have this problem, and she delivers a startlingly intense performance in an extremely unusual role (which also includes one rather huge plot hole). Walters is another standout as the young gangsta who clearly isn't as vicious as the others, but has difficulty making good decisions.
The only other things that might put viewers off are the astonishing grisliness and the scattershot approach to important issues from police corruption to female empowerment. As the body count grows, the film gets almost unbearably gritty and loud. But this increasing horror is thoroughly riveting, as is the genetic-survival theme. Shankland slightly mishandles the mystery's final puzzle piece when he nervously hedges an important twist, but it's such a thumping filmmaking debut that we can only look forward to what he comes up with next.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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