uwantme2killhim?: Film Review

Tribeca Film Festival
If this story wasn't true, you wouldn't believe it.

This suspenseful true-life tale explores the mystery of an Internet-inspired stabbing.

Based on a 2003 true-life incident in Manchester, England that was fascinatingly recounted in a 2005 Vanity Fair article, uwantme2killhim? is a labyrinth puzzle of a movie whose plot elements can only be sketchily described so as to avoid spoiling its surprises. Director Andrew Douglas (2005’s The Amityville Horror)'s film version of the story, which also inspired Nico Muhly's acclaimed opera Two Boys, is only partially successful at depicting its many twists and turns in convincing fashion. But it's compelling nonetheless, if only for the sheer bizarreness of the events depicted. If this story was fiction, no one would believe it.

Set more than a decade ago when online communication consisted largely of instant messaging, the film is told in flashback, beginning with the incarceration of 16-year-old Mark (Jamie Blackley) after he's nearly fatally stabbed a fellow student. Under the relentless probing of a female detective (Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey), his unbelievable story gradually unfolds.

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The big man on his campus, Mark is less interested in dallying with a sexually available classmate (Amy Wren) than in spending time chatting online with Rachel (Jaime Winstone), a young woman he's never actually met. Mark is besotted with his virtual girlfriend, but the fact that she has a seriously violent, jealous boyfriend with whom she's in the witness protection program would seem to hinder their chances for a relationship.

Nonetheless, Mark eagerly agrees to her request that he befriend her kid brother John (Toby Regbo), a socially maladroit classmate who's constantly being bullied at school. The two young men strike up an unlikely friendship, but their happiness becomes short-lived when John informs Mark that his sister has been murdered by her boyfriend. The distraught Mark's plan for revenge is interrupted when he's contacted online by an officious MI5 agent (Liz White) who recruits him for a secret mission with deadly consequences.

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The convoluted storyline -- awkwardly rendered to a large degree via an endless series of online exchanges in which the characters speak aloud the lines they're frantically typing -- never quite feels believable despite the introductory onscreen note that the events are based on fact. But director Douglas keeps things moving at such a fast, gripping pace that we go with the flow. The film's impact is greatly enhanced by the superb performances by the young lead actors who handle their characters’ complexities with impressive skill.

It all culminates in a big reveal reminiscent of the one unveiled in The Usual Suspects, whose director, Bryan Singer, happens to be one of this film's producers. It's unlikely that this effort will have a similar galvanizing effect on audiences, but it nonetheless delivers its intriguing story with a conviction that makes it well worth watching.

Opens March 14 (Tribeca Film)

Production: Anonymous Content, Bad Hat Harry, Jumping Jack Films

Cast: Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Joanne Froggatt, Liz White, Jaime Winstone, Mark Womack, Louise Delamere, Amy Wren, James Burrows, Stephanie Leonidas

Director: Andrew Douglas

Screenwriter: Mike Walden

Producers: Bryan Singer, Steve Golin, Peter Heslop, Simon Crocker, Jason Taylor

Executive producers: Andrew Douglas, Paul Green, Marc Berliner, Xavier Marchand, Robert Walak, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Lenny Beckerman, Tim Smith, Anne Sheehan

Director of photography: Tim Wooster

Editor: Michael Elliot

Production designer: Paul Cripps

Costume designer: Caroline Harris

Composer: Jon Hopkins

Not rated, 92 min.