Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, THE KILLING GENE, aka W∆Z, carries only a passing resemblance to SAW. It’s true, the killer uses homemade torture devices and the gore is plentiful in certain sequences but the plot doesn’t play second fiddle to the murderous mayhem our killer bestows upon the wicked. And since the torture isn’t the main focus, its much more effective (and painful) when it actually occurs. In fact, the film actually has more in common with SE7EN and although it isn’t nearly as good, it certainly manages to blur the line between police-thriller and horror in a similar fashion.
Stellan Skarsgård and Melissa George star as Eddie Argo and Helen Westcott, two detectives who are investigating a series of murders striking New York City. The victims are all dispatched in a similar fashion of torturous methods and have the mathematical phrase “w∆z” carved into their skin. Finding trace elements of an animal tranquilizer after a toxicology report, in a scene hearkening back to the glory days of THE X-FILES, the two detectives are off to an animal testing facility, where they discover the meaning behind the strange carvings (the Price equation) and the identity of the killer, who happens to be the victim from a case in Argo’s past. Police corruption, a bungled investigation and a heavy handed message pad out the last two acts of the film, as our heroes and antiheroes race towards a grisly climax.
What’s particularly interesting about the story progression in THE KILLING GENE is that you are given almost all of the pieces of the puzzle in the first act. The killer’s identity and motivation is spelled out almost right off the bat, giving you, faithful viewer, a chance to reflect on the tension in the police department and what they’re hiding from each other. I will be honest though: considering I knew nothing about this film in the slightest, the one curve ball the film does try to toss your way is painfully obvious, considering they all but spell it out for you in a scene early on. I’d compare it to something along the lines of PROFONDO ROSSO, in that its all there for you to catch at first glance but its blink-and-you’ll-miss.
Skarsgård, unsurprisingly, puts in a dark and engaging performance and carries the film almost entirely, while George goes into “deer-in-headlights” mode, but somehow manages to be convincing enough foil to her male counterpart. The supporting cast is uneven, ranking from embarrassing to adequate, most notably Selma Blair, who isn’t given much screen time or a lot to work with but seems to have a lot of fun with her role.
The film carries a grungy atmosphere, thanks to cinematographer Morten Søborg, who was clearly going for a SE7EN-ish presentation with minimal natural lighting. What his presentation can’t make up for is the awful doubling Belfast does for New York City, which is one of the most unseemless location melding I’ve bore witness too. Despite that though, every moment of the film is dirty and dank, to the point where I could’ve sworn I was right there along with Argo and Westcott, smelling the stale air of the projects.
If you’re one of those who w∆z equally as miffed by the ham-fisted social commentary in DIARY OF THE DEAD, odds are you’ll be equally offended by THE KILLING GENE. However, it certainly has enough appeal to make for a watchable, if not average, viewing experience.