Directed By: Tom Shankland
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Melissa George, Tom Hardy
Tag line: "Love doesn't hurt. It kills"
Trivia: Though set in New York, a large portion of this film was shot in Belfast
How far would you go to save someone you loved? Would you allow yourself to be tortured? Killed? These are the difficult questions director Tom Shankland poses in his 2007 horror/thriller, The Killing Gene, a gritty, savage film about a serial killer with more on their mind than simple murder.
Veteran New York cop Eddie Argo (Stellan Skarsgård) and rookie Helen Westcott (Melissa George) are called in to investigate two badly mutilated bodies: a gang leader, and a pregnant woman with an equation carved into her belly. Before long, several other murders are reported, each following a similar pattern, yet what makes them so disturbing is the victims were given a choice: save their own lives, or the lives of a loved one. With little to go on, Eddie and Helen must hunt down a serial killer out to prove a theory, one that asserts human beings are basically selfish, and there is no true love in the world.
The Killing Gene is not a pretty film; it’s a brutal, twisted journey into the darkest regions of New York City. In fact, one of the movie’s strengths is the way it explores the vandalized neighborhoods and abandoned buildings of this great city, leading us into areas no law-abiding citizen would dare enter. After the discovery of the first victim, Eddie and Helen confront gang leader and possible suspect Pierre (Tom Brady) on his home turf: a desolate street in the middle of the seediest section of town. Which brings me around to another strength of The Killing Gene: its performances. As Helen, Melissa George has never been better. When Eddie sends her out alone to deal with Pierre, we see the conflict in her eyes, the fear for her own safety that soon gives way to the realization this is her job, and like it or not, it has to be done. Of course, it isn’t long before she loses control of the situation, at which point Eddie steps in. Skarsgård has always been a strong actor, and his turn as the grizzled Eddie is no exception. Pierre and his gang start to back down the moment they see him, as if his very presence signified something sinister. We realize early on Eddie is a guy with a lot of baggage, and more than a few skeletons hiding in his closet. Skarsgård does a fine job maintaining his character’s controlled chaos, making Eddie the perfect cop to tackle such a difficult task.
Then we have the violence, and trust me when I say there’s plenty to go around. The discovery of the bodies is bad enough; Wesley, the boyfriend of the pregnant girl, is found hanging in an abandoned building, sliced open in a number of places (including his genitals) with blood strewn everywhere. But where The Killing Gene excels is in showing us just how far the killer (whose identity is revealed early on) is willing to go, at one point even abducting a strung-out mother (Sally Hawkins) and her 3-year-old son (Joshua O'Gorman). This leads to a gruesome chain of events, but not nearly as gruesome as the sequences when we’re actually shown the killer's torture technique, moments guaranteed to leave you squirming in your seat.
A taut, gripping thriller and a horrifying look into the mind of a serial killer, The Killing Gene is well-acted, well-made and very well told.