Review first published by Little White Lies
“You’ve had a mad life!” 16-year-old Mark (Jamie Blackley) declares to his new friend John (Toby Regbo). “I want to have a mad life, I want people to just look at me and go, ‘Wow, did you see that?'”
Popular at school, but largely ignored at home, Mark is full of big dreams with little substance to back them up, and ambitious business plans which lack only the killer idea “that no-one’s ever thought of before — like the internet.” In fact the internet is where Mark spends most of his spare time, chatting steamily with Rachel (Jaime Winstone) whose own ‘mad life’ has stuck her in a witness protection programme with her thuggish boyfriend Kevin (Mingus Johnston). It is only when Mark learns that John is Rachel’s brother that he befriends the bullied boy — and after Rachel is suddenly killed, John will half-heartedly join Mark on a quest for vengeance against Kevin that will soon attract the interest of an MI5 officer (Liz White).
How all this leads to Mark eventually stabbing John — shown anachronistically in the film’s opening scene — is left for us gradually to piece together along with investigating Detective Inspector Sarah Clayton (Joanne Froggatt). The fact that uwantme2killhim? is “based on a true story” (albeit here translocated from Manchester to North London) is unlikely in itself to help British viewers see what is coming, not least because the Children and Young Persons Act prevented the case ever being reported by the UK press (although it did inspire a 2005 Vanity Fair article by Judy Bachrach and even a two-act opera by Nico Muhly in 2011.
Still, the viewer’s knowledge of other, similar films (which will not be named here) may well give the game away very early — but thankfully Andrew Douglas, director of Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and The Amityville Horror remake, has chosen to focus on his young characters’ desperate attempts to transcend the dreary entrapments of middle-class suburban life, so that there are resonances here beyond the mere mechanics of a twisty plot.
It is a story where everyone wants to be a porn star, or a samurai warrior, or a dark vigilante, or a national hero — all escapist fantasies which, once enacted, can have awful consequences in the real world. Here both reality and fantasy are mediated through the online chatrooms which were still relative terra incognita back in 2003, so that the characters’ undoubted naïveté never quite equates to alienating stupidity.
Voguish concepts like cybersex, online bullying, trolling and internet grooming all find their way into the film’s thematic texture, but at its heart uwantme2killhim? is concerned with the more timeless topic of tragically dysfunctional relationships. It is a ‘mad life’ all right, expertly modulated by the two leads.
Enjoyment: It’s obvious where this is going… 3
In Retrospect: …but that only makes its trajectory even more tragic in the end. 4