This succeeded as a horror movie because, even though I accurately predicted the final twist (the “hunchback”), I found the whole thing increasingly unsettling, to the point that the climactic flashlit race through dark tunnels was much freakier than it should have been.
Jay is a family man with a son, a pretty Swedish wife (Myanna Buring of The Descent), and a bit of a temper – possibly something to do with his former job running security in Bagdad? He’s hot and cold with his old buddy Gal (Michael Smiley, a raver in Spaced) and Gal’s new gal Fiona, a “human resources” person (she fires people).
I carefully avoided learning anything about the movie’s plot before watching, had no idea that Jay and Gal make their living as hit men. So I’m adding up facts and impressions from these initial scenes, probably needlessly. Why does Jay cook and eat a rabbit he finds dead in the yard? Is it important that the wife is Swedish, also with a military past? Why does Gal keep bringing up that Fiona is a “demon in bed”? I suppose the demon thing ties into the rest, since she turns out to be part of the weird cult that enlists the men for a murder spree.
Victims, preceded by title cards: first, The Priest, who seems grateful to be executed. Why does Gal make a sign of the cross before the execution, when Jay’s wife had earlier forbidden prayer at the dinner table and the men had raged at some campfire-singalong Christians at the hotel? Next: The Librarian, whom they torture after discovering he’s got a child-porn collection, but still manages to thank them (to Jay: “Does he know who you are? . . . Glad to have met you.”) before death by hammer. Next: The MP, but while they camp outside his house, a wicker cult parades through the woods.
Chase ensues through the catacombs, many culties are shot, and Gal doesn’t make it. Outside, Jay is captured, spun around and made to fight “the hunchback”.
1. Earlier on their mission he saw Fiona outside.
2. Fiona has been paying frequent visits to Jay’s house while the men were away, even though Gal claims he broke up with her.
3. I’ve seen movies before.
So yeah, I figured out “the hunchback.”
God forbid everything should be overexplained in a horror movie (you hear me, Rob Zombie?) but this one goes beyond a sense of mystery, ending abruptly after this final one-sided knife fight. The cult’s goal isn’t just to fuck with some poor guy and make him kill his family – Jay is implied to be some sort of demonic chosen one (the victims “recognized” him). But I hope the next step is to sacrifice the guy, because I don’t know how they expect to convince him that this was all an initiation ritual and now he needs to become their king or whatever. Instead I think they’ll end up with one angry, revenge-seeking professional killer.
… a dual shift from a vague but comprehensible narrative about a pair of ex-military men-turned-contract-killers on assignment into an insane pagan scenario, and also from a skillfully wrought realist presentation into something wholly hallucinatory. Trying to pinpoint the exact moment of this slippage is next to impossible, because Wheatley has designed the film so that the two modes complement and even heighten one another. There are trace elements of the first half’s nervy naturalism in the crazed climax just as surely as tuned-in viewers will sense something uncanny intruding on those early everyday passages. In lieu of any sort of trendy bifurcation, Wheatley bleeds it all together.