Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back)


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Dead In a Week (Or Your Money Back)
"It's well executed (a phrase I use unthinkingly) and did make me laugh, but not enough to allay my concerns."

A man engages a hitman to kill him, and while waiting for death discovers a reason to live. You can call the Samaritans any time, day or night, on 116 123 in the UK or the Republic of Ireland.

The man is Aneurin Barnard, William, that fragile endearing shuffle of his, that wee hunch of helplessness. The paid assassin is Tom Wilkinson, Leslie, trying to beat enforced retirement by meeting a quota imposed by his hard-charging boss. That boss, Christopher Eccleston, is the popular British character actor whose use of the C-word will probably see the film get a 15 certificate. If you don't want to call the Samaritans, there are other bodies available. 111 for NHS assistance (within the UK). If you're in William's situation there's the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) who can be reached on 0800 58 58 58 between 17:00 and 00:00 every day, for those under 35 there are Papyrus, 0800 068 41 41 who are available Mon-Fri, 10:00 to 22:00, weekends 14:00 to 22:00, and bank holidays 14:00 to 17:00.

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William has been struggling with suicidal thoughts for some time. He has a tally of suicide attempts (some of which are presented to ostensibly comic effect, with details like placement of components and other elements of method) which he usually amends upward to include "the cries for help". Leslie is aging, losing accuracy, something unspecified, perhaps just age related degeneration, but when he tries to kill William there is collateral damage. Any suicide is a tragedy, one that is always hard to understand. One made harder both by difficulties collating statistics regarding suicides and also (to quote from the Samaritans' 2017 Statistic Report "ensuring responsible portrayal of suicide in the media." Other resources are available - the NHS themselves say that "There's no right or wrong way to talk about suicidal feelings – starting the conversation is what's important." (As with much of the information provided, from here)

I say that, because I'm not sure that Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back) starts the conversation in a useful way. I sat watching it, increasingly concerned - there is a reference to the Samaritans but in the credits, and near the end, their logo and a phone number appear. I did what I would advise anyone distressed by a situation to do and reached out to someone, but I want to be clear that I say that the reasons I wasn't satisfied with their response have more to do with my politics and preferences than their intentions. I ascribe no malintent, no lack of effort - Stephen Fry who has been both public and vocal with his own struggles is an Executive Producer - but I did not enjoy the film and much of that related to its treatment of the subject.

I had concerns about the aftermath of an accidental shooting devolving to a series of jokes about Michael J Fox's health, specifically the tremors caused by Parkinson's. I had concerns about a notionally secret British Guild of Assassins whose operational security included allowing members to hand out business cards and receiving bank transfer by BACS. I was amused by a brochure of bad-ends, a cartoon catalogue of contract killing with artwork that resembled in-flight emergency briefings, but even in a halfway empty caff that does an all-day breakfast it didn't seem the kind of thing to wave about. I had concerns about parking tickets, about telephone calls, about the policies of the BGA's lending library of long-arms and its revolver rentals and so forth, and I had concerns about the waiter. If you do see the film (and given how many other options there are, even as a Best of the Fest at Edinburgh's 2018 Film Festival), I can't recommend that you do, watch out for him. He's not the only one forgotten.

Suicide is currently the leading cause of death in men under 45. To borrow from the Samaritans again, the reasons are complex but we know that it is a gender and an inequality issue. Struggling author William (and perhaps it's not worth glossing over the frequency with which professions like this appear as protagonists) certainly meets half these criteria. He has enough (just) to transfer (again, via his bank's website) the sum of £2000 for his own murder to a bank account directly affiliated with a criminal organisation. That Archer doesn't even appear to be from the available balance, and while that might be a consequence of an anonymous production designer and my hurried glance it was another small detail that left my suspension of disbelief in overdraft.

There are some good moments - I enjoyed Marion Bailey's turn as Leslie's wife, readying herself for a high-stakes cushion competition. Freya Mavor's Ellie is apparently the girl of William's dreams, and she's remarkably sanguine about the amount of bloodshed. I just didn't think there were enough of them. That's just a reason not to see a film, to do something else. There are always options, and I wish that the film had made different choices. I'd have been interested to see different consequences for William's decision, for Leslie's. I'd have been most interested if the notion of "seeking professional help" hadn't been about death. I didn't notice a point where our protagonist was offered other assistance with his struggles. Even as he makes new friends and allies, aware of his feelings and intentions, the help that they offer is never a suggestion that he talk to someone else. Some of that is because of the consequences of his illegal action, but if your life is in danger you should call 999.

A debut feature for writer/director Tom Edmunds, it extends themes in his previous shorts of issues with customer service, existential dilemma to comic effect, and the business of murder for hire. It's well executed (a phrase I use unthinkingly) and did make me laugh, but not enough to allay my concerns. Again, this might be my issue - I know that cinema cannot always be an escape - but if I didn't hope for better I wouldn't take my seat so eagerly. There's always something to look forward to, and while this film didn't do it for me it might for others. It certainly prompted discussion in my life.

This is not a new notion - played for cartoon laughs in The Suicide Shop, Aussie comic neo-noir in The Suicide Theory, Fletch, Bulworth, it's sufficiently common that it's got a TV Tropes page. I'd rather something else, though, and on that basis I look forward to Edmunds' next project. I'm not seeking a refund, but I'm also not recommending it.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2018
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An ageing hitman offers to help a young man who keeps failing at suicide.
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Director: Tom Edmunds

Writer: Tom Edmunds

Starring: Aneurin Barnard, Christopher Eccleston, Nigel Lindsay, Freya Mavor, Tom Wilkinson, Gethin Anthony, Velibor Topic, Marcia Warren, Marion Bailey, Emma Campbell-Jones, Nathalie Buscombe, Orion Lee, Harry Collett, Carol MacReady, Cecilia Noble

Year: 2018

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2018

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