The opening film of the main Fright Fest weekend was screened in a celebratory atmosphere, the tenth year the horror strand has featured at the Glasgow Film Festival. The fourth feature from Septic Man‘s Jesse Thomas Cook from a screenplay by Pontypool‘s Tony Burgess, The Hexecutioners is the story of two “palliative technicians” in the employ of the soothingly named organisation Life Service Closure. It’s three years since Proposition 177 was passed, allowing euthanasia to be legally performed by licensed operators in the homes of those who have opted for their services.
Newly qualified, it is the first day on the job for Malison McCourt (The Door‘s Liv Collins) and it goes badly, horribly badly. Shuffling the reams of paperwork, she walks nervously to the door of the isolated, dilapidated redbrick and is shown upstairs where she sets up the equipment for the lethal injection. The husband says his wife has been in a coma for four years, “stubborn as a mule,” yet as the supposedly painless chemicals take hold she opens her eyes and calls Mal a murder.
Shaken, her supervisor puts her in the company of a mentor for her second assignment, an out-of-town job which will require a stayover. Confident, experienced, cynical, charming, Olivia Bletcher (Killjoys‘ Sarah Power) is everything Malison is not, and nor does she allow herself to dwell on the work they do. “They say they screen the clients but I’m sure they only vet the bank balances.”
Evicted from her apartment by her landlord who regards her as an offence to god, a willing practitioner of deadly sin, Mal travels across the country with all her worldly goods in her car; unable to take her beloved black cat Lucy with her, she has no choice but to set her free, abandoning her by the roadside.
Arriving at the remote estate of their client, Olivia and Malison are given barest welcome by Edgar Birde (Saw II, III and V‘s Tim Burd), a man who captures and strangles possums with his bare hands. Edgar informs them that the elderly and bedridden Milos Somborac has included a special dispensation clause in his contract, a Tibetan death ritual known as “bya gtor,” sky burial.
Despite being more experienced, Olivia has misgivings about the lack of information they are being given about the expectation placed upon them, but Malison, already suffering from a recurring nightmare of a ritual performed by masked figures, finds that she understands the lonely and awkward Edgar and that she wishes to honour the dying wishes of Mr Somborac.
Like The Purge, The Hexecutioners is a “what if,” but where that film and its sequel used the premise to launch a scathing satire on modern corporate America, here the underlying rights, wrongs, implications and consequences are never developed beyond the immediate requirement of the plot.
While the world beyond is composed of golden evenings, within the expansive grounds of the mansion there is only brittle frosty daylight or black night, the house beautifully and gently lit by candles, candles everywhere, casting shadows on the dark wooden panelling, reflected in the glass fronted cabinets.
Atmospherically filmed and making great use of the stunning location and the surrounding area of Owen Sound, Ontario, the film is almost a two hander between Collins and Power, both excellent in the shifting dynamic of their relationship, with Burd the sinister host whose avoidance of answers to any of their questions borders on hostile.
A showcase for the performers and the crew Cook has assembled, it never becomes more than the sum of the individually impressive parts, with layers of cryptic symbolism which don’t add up satisfactorily, the impression being of deliberate obfuscation of a simple plot in order to make it seem more impressive. Instead of analysis, enjoy rather the wild experience and the spectacle of the finale as the ritual unfolds, the picture bleached other than the splashes of colour which emphasise the primal bloodiness of what is enacted.
The Hexecutioners is scheduled for release on DVD and VOD on 30th May