Friday, 18 March 2011
Director: Albert Pyun
Screenplay: John Lowry Lamb & Robert McDonnell
Starring: Charles Sheen, Michael Halsey, Stephen McCole & Ivana Milicevic
I've always enjoyed Albert Pyun films with the likes of Nemesis, Kickboxer 2, Cyborg, Mean Guns, Knights and even Adrenalin all regularly getting a watch so I can get my Pyun action movie fix. Here we have Postmortem a slight change of pace for a Pyun flick (as in there are no cyborgs or kung fu featured): a serial killer flick that manages to create an unsettling mood and be quite entertaining at the same time. In fact (for those who care, and I know there are some), this could be Pyun’s most accomplished work, at least since Nemesis.
James McGregor (Sheen) is an American ex-cop turned novelist who, after seeing one too many nasty crimes, has deserted his family and shacked up in Glasgow, Scotland. Wallowing in self pity, McGregor is accused of a killing when a dead girl turns up in his back yard. Convincing the cops he is innocent and that a killer is setting him up, McGregor high tails it into the highlands to get away from the madness. However, Inspectors Ballantine (Halsey) and Turner (Millicevic) want him to join the police team in their hunt for the killer. It’s only a matter of time before McGregor agrees and the search for the killer is on.
So far, so standard. What is refreshing about this film is the setting. Having the action take place in Glasgow may seem a little odd but it is a nice change from Los Angeles or New York. We get to see a lot of Scotland’s architecture and countryside as McGregor and the police chase the killer through city streets, graveyards and various other local settings. Part of the appeal is perhaps seeing a Hollywood actor run around the middle of Glasgow (not something you would often see, I assume). People of a Scottish persuasion may be irritated by the fact that an American has to show the local police how to find the killer. This is a valid point, though Sheen being American makes his character more of an outsider and gives him a sense of loss while tracking a killer in an alien country.
Sheen (credited as Charles here) works well in this film, showing that there is still an actor inside him. In the earlier scenes, and presumably drawing from personal experience, he portrays the alcoholic, disheveled McGregor convincingly. Once he is on the case, Sheen plays his character as a man desperately trying to stop the bad that is happening (though his transformation from drunk to hero seems to just involve having a shave). But Sheen and the script never turn McGregor into a gun-toting, gung-ho saviour. He is very much an ordinary man, who makes mistakes and finds himself caught up in something unbelievable. McGregor never resorts to using a gun and there is no improbable romantic subplot. The rest of the cast do well with their one-dimensional characters. Halsey (Mean Guns) as Ballatine is good support but obviously struggles with his Scottish accent.
The pace of the film is perhaps what makes it work. Some reviews have commented that the film drags in some scenes. This is true but making the film a bit longer at 105 mins, the filmmakers have been able to explore the reasons for the killer’s actions with more intensity and maturity than most serial killer flicks. Using flashbacks and revealing the killer earlier on allows us to see what drives the killer to do what he is doing. There is no quick, convoluted exposition blurted out in the final scene by the killer in order to explain why he is murdering. The film takes time to show what a flawed but no less evil person the murderer is. This makes the character a real monster compared to the cartoon monsters that most thrillers portray their villains as. The gore is kept to a minimum and used wisely, though there is an unnecessary amount of gratuitous nudity.
Pyun hasn't always been renowned for coherence in his pictures, but here he seems to be learning to let scenes run a little longer and have actions explained: he doesn’t seem to have been pressured to cut out huge chunks in order to get that coveted 90 minute run time. George Mooradian’s camerawork is another bonus. The camera flows and swoops around characters and action giving the film a sense of momentum and freedom. Though this technique is overused a little, it is particularly effective in the scene where McGregor and the police pursue the killer through the streets of Glasgow.
With a somber tone and a slightly more thought provoking ending than one would expect, this was a surprisingly entertaining film. In a market flooded with direct-to-video fodder (and I’ve seen a lot…a bloody lot) Postmortem is a worthy attempt at trying something different with the serial killer genre.