The Hexecutioners (2015)

The Hexecutioners first published by TheHorrorShow

The road to death can be easy or hard. In the past, different cultures have tried to ease this inevitable transition with rituals designed to expiate past sins and console those left behind – whereas in our more secular age, the stages of death have increasingly become sanitised and medicalised. And so, by setting The Hexecutioners in a not so distant future (or more or less in the present for those who live in Switzerland, Luxembourg or the Netherlands) where assisted suicide has become the legal province of private medical firms, screenwriter Tony Burgess (Pontypool) is putting ‘live’ issues about the commercialisation and privatisation of death at the centre of his genre frame.

Collaborating once again after their previous work on Septic Man (2013), Burgess and director Jesse Thomas Cook have crafted a smart, unpredictable journey into the uncertainties and anxieties surrounding death, as our heroine, the oddly named Malison McCourt (Liv Collins), finds her own life being upended by a change in career direction. Her very first assignment for the euphemistically named Lifesource Closures lays out a gamut of conflicting perspectives on her new vocation. Following the glib company line, Malison introduces herself as a “palliative technician” and seeks to reassure her client that his comatose wife’s “closure” should be “meaningful, merciful and memorable.” The client, however, refers to Malison as a “death doula”, insisting, “Just cut the crap… put that needle in, and you’re done.” Even more disturbingly, the bed-ridden wife wakes up during the terminal procedure, looks Malison in the eye and calls her “murderer.” Sweet-natured Malison is shaken to the core by this experience – and shaken even more when her god-fearing landlord Mr Poole (Walter Borden), disapproving of her line of work on religious and moral grounds, kicks her out of her rented room.

Now between homes, and as lost as the souls for whom she serves as psychopomp, Malison is partnered up for her next ‘suicide mission’ with the more experienced technician Olivia Bletcher (Sarah Power), and the two mismatched women – Malison the shy good girl, Olivia the brash hellraiser – travel to a remote manor house (with maze attached, à la The Shining or Pan’s Labyrinth) whose hideously scarred and dying owner Milos Samborec (played by Burgess himself) has paid their employers top dollar to have a ‘special dispensation’ included in the euthanasia package. Now Malison and Olivia, under the guidance of Samborec’s melancholic assistant Edgar (Tim Burd), must decide how far they are willing to go for what they insist is “just a job”, and whether perhaps, after all, they must, like their new client, face a moral reckoning for their deeply transgressive deeds.

The ensuing scenario brings the Tibetan Book of the Dead into collision with the spirit of Lucio Fulci, and haunts a quirky buddy comedy with a creepily cultic ghost story. You will never quite guess where The Hexecutioners is going from one moment to the next, as Burgess’ intricate, witty script and Cook’s ever more lysergic visual mannerisms prove as disorienting as any maze. And if all this leaves the viewer in a kind of bardo-like limbo, unsure where to turn for deliverance from the narrative’s many garden paths and cul de sacs, that would seem very much the point, as the film takes the hardest of routes towards its terminal resolution, confronting us along the way with death in all its ugly, messy intimacy.

Anton Bitel