Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence including a Rape, Gruesome Images and Pervasive Language
Directed by: Tom Shankland
Written by: Clive Bradley
Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George, Selma Blair, Tom Hardy, Ashley Walters & Paul Kaye
Serial killer thrillers are a dime-a-dozen. That was happening long before David Fincher’s SE7EN arrived and has continued long after. Why mention Fincher’s 1995 thriller? Well, because after SE7EN became a huge hit in the 90’s, everyone and their dog seemed to be trying to replicate the dark and gritty style of that masterpiece. Over the years, most have fallen short and some rare exceptions have been made. Tom Shankland’s THE KILLING GENE is one of those exceptions.
Detective Eddie Argo has worked the city streets for years and that has taken a toll on him. He’s seen a lot of horrible things in his career, but he’s never seen anything quite like the body they’ve just uncovered. A pregnant woman has been killed with a math equation carved into her flesh. While Eddie immediately suspects that this murder has something to do with a local gang (run by the vicious Pierre), his new partner Helen thinks that something deeper and darker might be occurring. The pregnant woman is the first in a string of killings that seem to revolve around Pierre’s gang. Clearly, someone is trying to solve a complex math problem with bloodshed. A serial killer is conducting an experiment to see how much pain someone will endure before eventually killing the person they love most. Needless to say, Eddie and Helen must get to the bottom of this twisted case as corpses continue to pile up.
THE KILLING GENE isn’t your typical cop vs. killer fare. Instead, the movie opts for a grimmer, more potent approach. It uses its premise to probe a darker issue in human nature and how far we will go to stay alive. Think a less gory and over-the-top version of SAW. The movie doesn’t exploit its disturbing premise though and mostly keeps the violence off-screen. We do see a couple of nauseating bits play out, but not nearly enough where this might be considered torture-porn or even on the same violent level of your typical serial killer flick. THE KILLING GENE’s most obvious influences come from SE7EN in capturing a scummy underbelly of a city and bringing an after-the-kill approach to the crimes. Shankland does seem to be trying a little too hard in areas to be gritty with an overuse of profanity. Typically, swearing doesn’t bother me in movies. However, KILLING GENE uses a distracting, unrealistic amount of profanity (like every other word in a couple of arguments). This doesn’t become a huge deal in the movie, but it is a recurring annoyance.
The cast is an unusual mix of names that work well together. Stellan Skarsgard usually plays the villain, but finds himself playing the disillusioned Eddie. He’s a compelling lead. Even when he was revealed to be a bit of an asshole and a cop who doesn’t mind using questionable methods, I still liked Eddie as a character. Melissa George is a much more stereotypical rookie partner, but she manages to stick out of the crowd by being smarter than those around her. Though her delivery ranges from good to somewhat stilted, George surprised me here by making a clichéd character into someone slightly more realistic. This is not a spoiler, seeing that this detail is given upfront, but Selma Blair is slightly miscast as the killer. Her motivations are interesting and add another layer onto the already clever plot, but her line delivery is a little unconvincing. There is one more recognizable face as Tom Hardy is perfectly cast as the sadistic scumbag Pierre.
THE KILLING GENE isn’t immune to clichés that are common in serial killer thrillers, but it still stands as a refreshing entry in an overcrowded subgenre. Stellan Skarsgard and Tom Hardy both deliver solid performances, while Melissa George makes the most of what she’s given and Selma Blair sort of fumbles her part. This movie utilizes the same dirty style of SE7EN, though it tries a little too hard with a noticeable amount of excessive swearing. I do commend this film for taking the high road and not just devolving into generic torture-porn (which was hugely popular at the time this was made). THE KILLING GENE is more than just your typical serial killer thriller and well worth a watch, if you feel you can stomach it.