Those Who Deserve To Die


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Those Who Deserve To Die
"Heavily invested in style, not always so strong on substance."

Ever since the Great War began in 1914 it has been noted by psychiatrists that survival against the odds can leave soldiers with a peculiar sense of obligation or destiny. Just how does the brain reconcile the unlikeliness of being the one who made it, especially when close friends have died? For Jonathan (Joe Sykes), things are even more complicated. He believes that he owes his survival to the ghost of a ten-year-old girl. That girl continues to be a presence in his life and she wants something in return for her help. She wants him to kill for her.

Heavily invested in style, not always so strong on substance, Those Who Deserve To Die has a strong Seventies vibe despite dealing with contemporary issues (and taking an unusually open stance on the wisdom of Middle Eastern insurgents which is rarely seen outside military communities). Dominated by a soundtrack which is sometimes overwhelming but never out of place, it invites its audience to share its protagonist's sense of disorientation and reflects on the strangeness of renting a room or attending an electoral campaign event after being confronted by the world as a place full of death and brutality. Rachel Frawley plays Margaret, a woman who shares that understanding and might just be able to help Jonathan, but the ghost girl she's just another means to an end.

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Director Bret Wood makes sure the message is clear right from the outset. Even though scenes of violence against children are kept offscreen, some viewers will find themselves unable to watch. The girl's perspective, of course, is different. Being a child, she sees nothing sacred about that state - especially given the way (it is implied) that adults have treated her. She sees them as chattel, a means through which to attain her revenge, killing not just those who have wronged her but anyone who might mourn them. She's a pint size Keyser Soze who refuses to weaken her grip on her mortal ally - and, indeed, it's not clear that he could survive her doing so.

Newcomer Alice Lewis brings real conviction to this role though she doesn't get a lot of lines. there's an unspoken comparison between experiences of combat stress and child abuse, and the psychological trauma that can linger afterwards. Pleasingly, Wood avoids the usual hyper-feminine, childish trappings associated with this character, so it's not just another horror film about a scary little girl, something that long since ceased to shock anybody familiar with the genre. The real status of the child, curiously named Berenice (there's an obligatory Poe joke early on, involving false teeth), is uncertain, but real or not, she embodies Jonathan's guilt not just about his survival but about going to war in the first place. In the film's final scenes Wood hints at a grander vision, at questions about how war has changed the psyche of America. Although this never quite gels the way it might have done it positions the film as a commentary on violence rather than just another indulgence in it.

Though the film has a lot going for it, there's insufficient chemistry between Sykes and Frawley to make her attachment to him convincing. Sykes struggles with the requirement to suppress emotion and doesn't really let us glimpse enough of what's behind it to form an attachment of our own. The result is a film which sometimes feels as cold as the trauma it depicts. It's difficult to get close to and so has to rely on shocks and surprises where it might have made more out of the underlying drama. One is left hoping that Wood will return to this subject when he's ready to pull together something more coherent. It's watchable enough but falls short of its potential.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2019
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A series of vicious murders are taking place, each performed with military precision, yet the killer is reluctant. It is the ghost of a vengeful 10-year-old girl guiding him to act, and she will not be denied.

Director: Bret Wood

Writer: Bret Wood, based on the book by Thomas de Quincey

Starring: Lynn Lowry, Kelly O'Neal, Joe Sykes, Alice Lewis, John Schmedes

Year: 2019

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


Dundead 2019

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