Saturday, October 17, 2009

30 Days of Fright - 15: WΔZ

Ho-ly Shiiit but I enjoyed this movie! When I got into writing the reviews for the 30 Days and last years 27 Days of Fright I looked forward to watching some films that I may not have otherwise bothered with. As I work through this years list there have been a good few disappointments, films that looked good on the trailer or on the back of the DVD case turned out more often then not to be crap. Then a film like WΔZ comes along.

Before I go any further let me get this out of the way, WΔZ is actually pronounced "double-u, delta, zed", the zed because while it's set in America it's actually a British film, the delta part leads me to the following point that I must make:


I can't reasonably discuss this movie without dishing out spoilers and, because it was so good, I intend to gush on a little and that will reveal details that will spoil this movie for you. If you're the sort who like to remain in the dark before seeing a film, then I won't be offended if you skip this review - however, you must promise to see WΔZ when you get the chance!


And so to the film...

WΔZ (2007 in Ireland & the UK, 2008 in the US) follows Detective Eddie Argo and his new sidekick Helen Westcott as they investigate the murder of a young pregnant woman whose body has been dumped in unusual circumstances, and who has "wΔz" carved onto her body. The victim is the girlfriend of a local badass gansta type and the cops nip round to his place to ask a few questions. When they get there they find him hanged in an apparent suicide, though it's quickly revealed that there's more then appearances to it, he really did top himself. There's evidence that he'd been tortured and both him and his girl had traces of a strong sedative in their systems.

Shortly after there's another double death, two brothers and associates of the suicide victim. One brother has been murdered in the same way as the girl via electrocution and his brother died from a series of terrible wounds inflicted as the result of torture. The mysterious wΔz engraving appears again and  Eddie and Helen dig into the case further by tracing the sedative used on all four victims. Only one local lab has been using this particular stuff so the cops call round for a chat. There they find a rather squirrelly scientist who does a legger when Eddie and Helen spot the "wΔz = cov(wi, zi)+E(wiΔzi)" equation written on a blackboard.

However, the scientist is only nervous as he's been peddling drugs to students and is not a murderer. He does explain the equation and the nature of his research into altruism in animals. He explains that the idea of a creature sacrificing itself for others is un-natural and that, in the right circumstances (or wrong circumstances depending on how you look at it) any creature will kill to save itself, that desire for self preservation being more powerful then even love.

Another two victims are discovered, a woman and her child. The mother is a drug addict and associate of the other victims. The cops are shocked to discover that the mother is alive and the child, her very young son, is dead. She had been put into a situation where she had to kill her son in order to save herself and she had done just that, her need to survive particularly troubling the cop Helen, who wanted to believe that a mothers love would be stronger than anything.

All the victims are linked by a series of petty crimes and one major one. They had all been involved in the brutal and incredibly violent rape of a girl in her home in front of her mother, who the gang had forced to watch. They brutalised their victim for hours before offering her the chance to end her suffering by telling the gang to kill her mother. In terrible pain, she had offered her mothers life in order to save her own. The rape victim, Jean Lerner, had recovered and found employment with the drug dealing scientist as his assistant and through her work at his lab had developed her own understanding of the nature of altruism and self-preservation, and had then developed her own experiments that she gladly applied to her attackers, none of whom served a day in jail for her rape or her mothers murder.

Who said you'd never use algebra after school?

Now, it may seem like I've really told the whole story there but you've gotta trust me when I say I've barely scratched the surface of this movie. The investigation into the murders takes up maybe the first half of the film and the hunt for Jean is roughly the second half. The last act of the film hasn't been mentioned above, so hopefully it's not totally ruined for anyone who's read this far.

WΔZ has surprised me on a few different levels. Firstly, this is one of the most realistically made films I've seen in a while. It uses the shaky camera documentary style that is so popular at the moment but it really does feel like a documentary in parts as people and things behave the way you expect. Eddie (played ably by Stellan Skarsgard - Bootstrap Bill Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean) is a cop on the cusp of middle age and who smokes too much, so when he has to run after someone he's shite at it, and when he jumps over a fence and down a stairs - a distance of about 10 to 12 feet - it messes him up, the way you expect it to. Selma Blair (the childish one from Cruel Intentions) as Jean seems every part the vengeful victim who may not really be up for what she's doing. At one point, just as she's about to hurt someone, she leaves a bucket down and after she's inflicted some pain she pukes into it herself, obviously disturbed by what she's done. On top of that, she has realistic facial scars from her attack, the kind of scars that people who've been beaten do tend to carry with them.

Finally, Mellissa George as the cop Helen, plays her role well, though to be fair hers is probably the least developed of the main characters in WΔZ and serves primarily to balance Eddie's.

WΔZ is in many ways like the films Seven and Saw but I cannot describe it as a torture porn film as it's not about that at all, and therein lies another issue; is it fair to call WΔZ a horror film at all? This makes me ask is Silence of the Lambs a horror? Is Seven? My instinct says no, but why? The situation is horrific, torture and murder, so why aren't these other films horrors? Is it because the action follows the cops - people who deliberately put themselves into the situation of the film? If that's the case why do we say that Halloween is a horror - the action centres around Jamie Lee Curtis but there's a cop all the way through. And what about Scream? or A Nightmare on Elm Street? All these films feature cops, albeit in supporting roles, and Nightmare is the only one with a supernatural element at all. Does the main character have to be a cop to take the film out of the horror genre unless there's something supernatural going on?

I guess that's why I enjoyed WΔZ so much, it made me keep thinking long after the end credits, which are beautiful to watch by the way, rolled. I do wonder about WΔZ's longevity, will this be another case of the Cloverfields - will it be another film that's excellent on first viewing and terrible anytime thereafter - ask me again in about six months and I'll let you know.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for WΔZ.

For more info (this time I really think you should read these) check out:
For more about selfish genes and altruism in animals:

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