Stars: Liv Collins, Sarah Power, Timothy Burd, Ari Millen, Barry Flatman, Walter Borden, Boyd Banks, Tony Burgess, Jason David Brown, Matt Griffin | Written by Tony Burgess | Directed by Jesse Thomas Cook
It would seem, at least on paper, that the director of low-budget quasi-wrestling monster movie Monsters Brawl and the (literal) shit-monster movie Septic Man; teaming up the writer of the neo-classic Pontypool for a movie that encapsuates an American gothic vibe would not work. On the one hand you have someone’s whose work is filled with subtlety, on the other… shit-monster (and yes, I know Burgess also penned Septic Man)! Yet somehow, despite some lapses in judgement and a conclusion that falls off the cliff somewhat, The Hexecutioners really works.
From the offset, The Hexecutioners is completely overblown and overwrought. The film is scored like some kind of idiots guide to horror – queues hit all the notes that the filmmakers want you to feel, even if the onscreen visual have you feeling another – for yes, there are some clumsy moments strewn throughout the film that will have audiences laughing rather than screaming. But after a while you realise the craziness is intentional. The score, like the creepy cliched visuals are working together to create The Hexecutioners’ own audio-visual universe – a universe that, it turns out has more in common with the grand-guignol world of Dario Argento and Italian horror cinema than one would expect.
The Hexecutioners tells the story of Malison, who has just started working for an assisting suicide company – for that is now legal in the US. After a distressing first day, she is paired with seasoned veteran Olivia and they head to the remote estate of Milos Somborac. However this assisted suicide is to be unlike any other, for Milos wishes to be “closed” (the polite term for killed) via a Tibetan death ritual known as the Yotar Sky Burial. And with good reason… The Yotar Sky Burial absolves him of any responsibility for the deaths of 12 people as part of a ritualistic death cult. Twelve people who don’t want Milos Somborac to die and try to stop Malison at any cost.
If there was ever a film that epitomed the phrase “slow burn” it’s The Hexecutioners. Malison creeps around her home and through her own life in some kind of sombre haze, it’s not until Malison meets Olivia and they go to Milos’ foreboding mansion that there’s any sense of urgency to Malsion, even when director Cook is piling on the jump scares to terrify the audience. Speaking of Milos’ mansion, like The Shining and like The Amityville Horror, the house itself – and its stunning gardens and maze – is a character within the film, looking astonishingly evil and (as it pointed out by our two leading ladies), menacingly monstrous and even a tad angry… But the real monsters are the ghosts that inhabit Milos’ house and gardens. Looking eeriely like they’ve stepped out of an Italian Zombie movie – the make-up effects look like something out of Zombie Holocaust and Hell of the Living Dead – this gaggle of ghosts do little more than stand around imposingly but in terms of the story it works. It works because, thanks to Tony Burgess’ script, you’re never quite sure if they’re real or figments of Malison’s fractured psyche.
If anything, The Hexecutioners cannot be accused of being anything other than a slow-burn. Yet when Cook and co. finally do unleash the true horror of their story on the audience, all that atmosphere, all the self-agrandising actually makes astonishing sense. Without that overwrought soundtrack, without that world-building, the stunning scene in which Malison completes the task at hand would seem out of place. As it is, the scene plays out in stunning fashion: with colour-drained, in epic slow-motion – it is the most visually stunning sequence I’ve seen in a horror film since Excision‘s crazy dream sequences. Such a shame then that once that scene is over The Hexecutioners completely falls apart – spluttering into a generic stalk and slash style haunted house film, lessening the impact of everything that has come before.
***½ 3.5/5 (would be more if not for THAT ending)