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Edinburgh Film Review: ‘Uwantme2killhim?’

Andrew Douglas' fact-based account of teen violence is salaciously watchable but finally hokey.

With:
Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Liz White, Joanne Froggatt, Jaime Winstone, Mark Womack, Louise Delamere, Mingus Johnston, Amy Wren, Jay McDonald, James Burrows, Stephanie Leonidas.

Dramatizing a startling incident of teen-on-teen violence that made U.K. legal history in 2003, and the complex circumstances that caused it, “Uwantme2killhim?” is nonetheless likeliest to shock young audiences as a window into the quaint world of pre-Facebook social networking. Andrew Douglas’ first feature since 2005’s hit remake of “The Amityville Horror” unsurprisingly puts a heightened genre gloss on edgy real-life material, with salaciously watchable but finally hokey results. Producer credits for Bryan Singer and the Weinsteins up the likelihood of exposure for this TV-ish Britpic in the U.S., where viewers will be less likely to question its authenticity.

The convoluted case of anonymous online manipulation that led a seemingly well-adjusted Greater Manchester teen to be charged with the attempted murder of his best friend was compellingly documented in a 2005 Vanity Fair article by Judy Bachrach, here credited as co-producer. The lurid intrigue of the story has already been mined by composer Nico Muhly for his remarkable 2011 opera “Two Boys,” which proved that this sensitive material can withstand a highly stylized treatment.

By contrast, Douglas and writer Mike Walden’s fashioning of Bachrach’s article into a low-lit cautionary thriller – superior to Hideo Nakata’s “Chatroom,” but in a very similar bracket – feels a tad more exploitative, even if all identities and locations have been protectively fictionalized. That’s in part because Walden’s script seems more preoccupied with its young male subjects’ actions than with their identities, roughly sketching their personalities and home lives while betraying only a cursory understanding of teen culture circa 2003.

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Opening scenes do at least establish confident, jockishly handsome protag Mark (Jamie Blackley) as something of a nascent horndog, hooking up with his otherwise attached classmate Zoey (Amy Wren) for afternoon delight before heading home for virtual sex with Rachel (Jaime Winstone), whom he knows exclusively within the online-chatroom domain. Rachel’s tall-sounding tales of being in a witness protection program with her abusive b.f., Kevin (Mingus Johnston), are bought wholesale by Mark, as is her request that he befriend and protect her bully-magnet kid brother, John (Toby Regbo), who just happens to be in his class at school.

Despite their questionable introduction, an affectionate relationship develops between the improbably matched boys, though Mark’s mental state begins to unravel when Rachel disappears from cyberspace. When John reports that she’s been murdered by Kevin, Mark hatches a rogue revenge scheme. His plans are intercepted, however, by new online acquaintance Janet (Liz White), who purports to be an MI5 counter-terrorism agent — and convinces him that John is a person of interest.

It won’t take long for Mark’s seemingly limitless suggestibility to test the patience of many viewers: A true story this may be, but Walden’s structurally elaborate script can’t quite conjure the social and environmental detail necessary to make the belief-defying believable on a dramatic level. An eager, likable screen presence, Blackley sometimes seems understandably uncertain of whether to play Mark as a boy possessed or simply a dimwit; the impressive Regbo is on surer footing as a meek geek with some surreptitious social skills.

Douglas’ chief directorial flourish is his tricksy but ultimately inelegant solution to filming the fundamentally uncinematic process of instant messaging: Shattering the one-way mirror of Mark’s silent communications at his PC, actors are shown speaking their lines aloud as they type them, lending an oddly theatrical tone to the proceedings. Serviceable technical package works in the required spirit of sinisterly skewed realism, though Tim Wooster’s camera could go easier on the ominous blue filter.

Edinburgh Film Review: 'Uwantme2killhim?'

Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (Michael Powell Award competition), June 26, 2013. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) An Entertainment One (in U.K.) release of an Alliance Films, Bad Hat Harry presentation of an Anonymous Content, Bad Hat Harry, Jumping Jack Films production in association with Aegis Film Fund. (International sales: Independent Film Co., London.) Produced by 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. Co-producer, Judy Bachrach. Co-executive producer, Hakan Kousetta.

Crew: Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay, Mike Walden, based on the Vanity Fair article “U Want Me 2 Kill Him?” by Judy Bachrach. Camera (color, HD), Tim Wooster; editor, Michael Elliot; music, Jon Hopkins; music supervisor, Keith Armstrong; production designer, Paul Cripps; art director, Astrid Sieben; set decorator, Zoe Hoare; costume designer, Caroline Harris; sound, John Midgley; supervising sound editor, Lee Walpole; re-recording mixer, Stuart Hilliker; visual effects supervisor, Jan Guilfoyle; visual effects, Bluebolt; stunt coordinators, Gary Connery, Andy Bradford; assistant director, Toby Ford; second unit director, Samy Mosher; casting, Lucina Syson, Elaine Grainger.

With: Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Liz White, Joanne Froggatt, Jaime Winstone, Mark Womack, Louise Delamere, Mingus Johnston, Amy Wren, Jay McDonald, James Burrows, Stephanie Leonidas.

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