New York cops Eddie Argo (Stellan Skarsgård) and Helen Westcott (Melissa George) investigate a series of bizarre murders in which innocents are tortured in front of guilty loved ones who could (but dont) volunteer to die in their place.
You probably think you don’t need to see another film about folks tied to chairs being tortured. Hostel transformed this Abu Ghraib image - also practiced by the real-life ‘BTK’ (Bind Torture Kill) serial murderer - into cliché, and my dungeon is already full of depressing lookalike exercises in simplistic misanthropy. However, the peculiarly-titled WΔZ (W-delta-Z) turns the sub-genre around.
The BTK scenes are not only disturbing, but serve to make a point. By establishing that at least half the participants arguably deserve what’s happening to them, the horrors are more complicated than when a mean movie villain carves up an innocent. Vigilante Jean Lerner, powerfully played by Selma Blair, is not merely avenging a wrong done her but trying to solve a philosophical riddle (does altruism exist in nature?). Her former abusers could end their ordeals by throwing a switch to electrocute the especially-selected person they love most who is strapped to a home-made execution chair opposite. “You don’t think I’m enjoying this?” Jean whispers in her agony as she searches for a self-sacrificing streak in her victims, only to be disappointed time after time.
Symbols (‘WΔZ’) carved into corpses lead the investigators to a jittery animal researcher who identifies an equation representing a theory of animal behaviour. As more corpses show up, Stellan Skarsgård’s crumpled dick has to admit that the crimes must be connected with an old assault, which went unprosecuted for slightly too guessable reasons. Atrocities are doled out in hallucinatory flashes, and information is given in an order which confounds easy judgements: by the time we understand what was done to Jean, a pregnant woman and a child have been killed, and the first full representation of her procedure comes with the most culpable gangbanger (Tom Hardy).
Shooting mostly in Belfast, director Tom Shankland goes for the stylised neo-noir feel of Seven, presenting an almost claustrophobic big city story where all the characters on both sides of the law are wound up together and crime scene forensics shade into abstract inquiry.
If youve got the stomach for strong scenes of torture, and the heart to take part in an uncomfortable debate about human nature, this intelligent horror is well worth your time...