Blend together elements of Seven, Saw and the CSI television franchise and sprinkle liberally with torture porn nastiness and you have the recipe for WAZ, a grimy, unremarkable serial killer thriller that looks like the kind of derivative material destined for an early visit to the dvd shelves. The first feature from director Tom Shankland is a mildly ambitious attempt to invest a tired genre with a few smart twists but diehard genre fans are the only ones likely to have much interest in the unedifying outcome.
The reliable Stellan Skarsgard struggles to bring something fresh to the role of bitter, battle-hardened New York detective Eddie Argo. Worn done by life on the streets, he is an all too familiar mixture of the weary and the cynical. His nervous new partner is Helen Westcott (Melissa George), a woman who still believes she can make a difference. Their first big case involves the grisly deaths of a gangster and his pregnant girlfriend. The girl has the initials WAZ carved into her belly. Piecing the evidence together, they stumble upon genetic theories asserting that there is no altruism in nature. They are eventually led to a vengeance-seeking killer who puts the theories to the test by torturing her victims until they put self-interest first and agree to kill the person they love the most. The obvious marketing point for the film is along the lines of how much pain will it take to make you kill the one you love'
Set in the dark underbelly of the city by night, WAZ unfolds in a dog eat dog world of seedy apartments, warehouses and crack dens. Police corruption is rife and vigilante justice is the last resort. It is shot to appear as down and dirty as possible with the giddy camerawork and jumpy editing frequently aimed at an audience with a short attention span. Initially it has the feel of a police procedural thriller but gradually edges closer to torture porn territory as the level of graphic violence and bloodletting intensifies. The story is never entirely convincing and credibility is further undermined by the incongruous casting of familiar British faces (Ashley Walters, Tom Hardy, Paul Kaye) as American characters.
Skarsgard is faced with the biggest challenge of playing a character who changes gears from hard-bitten cynic to the most selfless romantic of them all even if the chance to prove himself comes strapped naked into a chair and battered bloody by a hammer. The final twist in the tale may come as a surprise to some audiences but that doesn't make it any more believable.
Vertigo Films (UK)
UK Film Council (UK)
Ingenious Film Partners (UK)
Northern Ireland Film and TV Commission (UK)
Pathe Pictures International
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