This Way Out (2013)
The feature debut of Staten Cousins Roe, A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life (2019) took full advantage of the incredible chemistry between its two leads, Katie Brayben and Roe’s wife (and fellow producer) Poppy Roe. The contrasts in these players’ performances – Brayben bringing the ditzy vulnerability, Roe the determined self-assurance – ensured that they made the perfect comic ‘odd couple’ double act, together anchoring the film’s satirical skewering of the self-help community’s more psychopathic side. In fact these three had past form as a filmmaking ensemble. For the writer/director’s first short, This Way Out (2013), similarly featured Roe and Brayben – here respectively as Minnie and her assistant Maude who run a small business together despite their obvious differences in manner and character.
The hook is that this operation, based in Minnie’s home, offers assisted dying as its service to consenting adult clients, in an imagined near-future England where euthanasia has become legal and bureaucratised. We see serious Minnie presenting the workings of her profession in a formal to-camera interview for a corporate video. This slickly positive and pious spin on what she does is intercut with contrasting scenes that show an increasingly desperate Minnie struggling to drum up business in order to avoid imminent closure. “It’s not about service anymore, Minnie, it’s about productivity,” says local government inspector Pry (Christopher Gilling),”It’s a numbers game, that’s all. It’s not personal.” And so, as Minnie and Maude race to meet Pry’s target of dispatching 10 clients in 10 days, Roe locates dark comedy on the cliff edge between hard-nosed economic rationalism and life-and-death morality.
This Way Out absurdly satirises the cut-throat practices required to survive in an overcrowded, competitive market place, where the services on offer, however sensitive and personal, are also box-ticking exercises that always risk reducing clients to mere numbers. This is a cautionary tale about what will inevitably transpire when the forces of capitalism are allowed to govern – and ride roughshod over – thornily delicate ethical questions. And from that contradiction, something blackly funny emerges, with Roe and Brayben’s clashing styles bouncing off one another to hilarious effect as they increase the numbers of their clientèle, precisely and paradoxically, by reducing them.
© Anton Bitel