'You (Us) Me': Busan Review
First-time filmmaker Max Sobol turns the serial-killer drama on its head by adding some black comedy and a touch of romance
Disturbing, potentially offensive and darkly humorous, British writer-director Max Sobol’s debut feature is a serial-killer romance not quite like any that have come before. Jettisoning the gleeful murderous lovers trope (Natural Born Killers), Sobol’s central couple has an opposites- attract dynamic that is hilarious, ironic and a little bit sad. Revolving around a homicidal everyman and an unhappy suicidal woman, You (Us) Me bounces wildly around the tonal and emotional spectrum but mostly retains its focus on the two lonely souls at its core. You (Us) Me should find a comfortable spot on genre festivals and U.K.-focused events in the immediate future, and possibly art house release in urban markets in Europe and North America.
You (Us) Me starts with a cold open as we watch Edward (Chris Wilde, the guy you hire if David Thewlis is booked) finish up with what turns out to be his latest murder victim. The next time we see the bloodlust-slaked Edward, he’s being harangued by his overbearing mother (Hilary Hodsman) about finding a nice girl and so forth. At work he’s anonymous when he’s not being socially inept, except around Grace (Hannah Witshire), with whom he shares one awkward date. While this is going on, the cranky, contentious Vivian (Hannah Kew) is doing her best to kill herself — and failing every time. One night, when Vivian's drunk out of her mind and making yet another suicide attempt, Edward’s plan to murder her is derailed when he decides to save her from herself. It is the beginning of a twisted, perverse, almost perfect romantic match.
And that’s the primary catch of the film. Edward and Vivian are wholly dysfunctional individually, but somehow painfully normal when together; they are a completely average couple, sniping about driving habits, having dull, obligatory sex, nitpicking about the other’s parents. Edward’s thirst for some kind of emotional satisfaction, previously gained through murder, is supplanted by more prosaic fulfillment with Vivian. He’s so content with his new state (one-sided though it is), he’s unable to grant the crushingly unhappy woman’s only wish: to do what she can’t and end her life. She stays in a dull, dead-end relationship hoping it will pay off with him killing her; it's why she protects him from the police. Edward and Vivian are normal in their deviance.
You (Us) Me is far from perfect: Sobol relies heavily on psycho-thriller and serial-killer conventions, and he’s yet to develop any sense of visual style, though that could be chalked up to what are clearly budget restraints. Locations are limited and the film has few wide, sweeping shots that come with pricey gear. There are some clunky narrative points that could have been rounded out or eliminated — primarily, the detectives investigating one of Edward's crimes, underwritten when they’re not in the way, and the devastating death of Vivian’s friends (Lara Rossi, Dominic Dowbekin) comes out of the blue and does little to add to the story. Her unfocused misery was enough. To top it all off the final sequence, where Edward breaks down and finally does make Vivian happy, revels in the kind of bizarre and potentially disturbing confluence of sex (sort of) and violence that has been criticized hundreds of times in hundreds of media in the past. Sobol may not have cash and style to play with yet, but he certainly has a singular storytelling voice. Even if it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Production company: Workshop
Cast: Hannah Kew, Chris Wilde, Avi Nassa, Hilary Hodsman, Lara Rossi, Dominic Dowbekin
Director-screenwriter: Max Sobol
Producer: Max Sobol
Director of photography: Maeve O’Connell
Production designer: Tim Rowden
Editor: Max Downey
Music: Benjamin Hudson, Paul Bowyer
No rating, 91 minutes