It must be tough to make a serial killer flick these days. Not a slasher flick, mind you, but a grim, dark, and serious crime thriller that straddles the fence between police procedural and grim horror. No matter how good (or bad) your movie is, you'll end up being compared to Silence of the Lambs or Seven (if you're lucky) -- or you'll be accused of ripping off stuff like Saw or Hostel. Such were the thoughts that swirled through my brain after contemplating my review for WAZ, a really solid horror/thriller from the UK that borrows just a little from all of the aforementioned films ... but still manages to forge some bleak new territory of its own. So if you think you might be in the mood for "yet another serial killer flick," be sure to add this one to your rental list, because it's one of the best I've seen in a while.
Stellan Skarsgard and Melissa George play a pair of ill-matched detectives who are faced with a confusing crime scene: What looks like a typical gang slaying is actually the first in a long series of serial murders. The victims have a few things in common: They've all been tortured (to one degree or another), and their bodies are branded with a series of strange ... carvings. (Turns out the symbols come from the world of mathematics, and they're connected to a subplot that's actually quite intelligently compelling -- but I'm not about to spoil any of the flick's surprises.) As the bodies continue to pile up, our "heroes" must contend with some painful memories regarding rampant police corruption and one specific crime that ... but again, I don't want to spill too many details.)
Suffice to say that when WAZ is at its creepiest, it's an aggressively entertaining horror-show. But even better than that: When the movie focuses more on the "angry cop with a checkered backstory" material, it's simply a whole lot cooler than most of its type. Director Tom Shankland does a superior job of creating a sense of palpable sense of dread, particularly as the movie creeps on towards its powerfully intense finale. Aside from the stellar look and suitably gloomy tone, WAZ boasts (yet another) fantastic performance from the always-reliable Stellan Skarsgard. World-weary, burnt-out, and perpetually prepared for nastiness, Skarsgard anchors this fine genre flick like only the best actors can. The lovely Melissa George serves as a suitable foil to Skarsgard's brooding intensity, although she maybe comes off a little too "deer in the headlights" from time to time. The leads are backed by a generally unfamiliar -- but really excellent -- cast of supporting actors.
Half a cop thriller and half an appreciably downbeat horror flick (one that actually offers a little something to think about once the lights go up), WAZ stands as a very auspicious feature debut from award-winning British director Shankland. The film succeeds on the back of one stellar performance, two surprisingly engaging plot threads, and a whole bunch of seriously unpleasant atmosphere. So if a few of the sections feel a bit familiar, surely that can be forgiven: It's not like Seven, Saw, or Silence won any awards for earth-shattering originality.
WAZ played as part of the 2007 UK FrightFest event. The American DVD is being handled by Dimension, but we don't have a release date just yet.