January 11, 2013 (UK)
Kevin Bishop as Baz
Jack Doolan as Seth
Frances Barber as Bernice
Hayley-Marie Axe as Val
Kasia Koleczek as Maya
The world around bicycle cop Baz (Kevin Bishop) is going to Hell, and he’s sick of it. He’s stuck caring for his bitter, misanthropic mother Bernice (Frances Barber), suffers from terrible migraines, always says the wrong thing to his partner Val (Hayley-Marie Axe), and feels like criminals have taken away all the power and respect the police once commanded. One night, as teenagers and twenty-something gang members begin rioting and looting, Baz sees an opportunity to get revenge on a street punk who beat him up previously. The punk doesn’t seem to take Baz too seriously and even gives Baz (who’s recording on a hidden camera) an answer of “Yes” when he asks him “May I kill you?”. Baz promptly obliges, beating the man to death on camera with the flat-screen TV he was trying to steal. He then changes his voice on the footage in post and in a special message released onto the internet alongside the video talking about how far society has fallen. To Baz’s surprise, the “mystery killer” becomes a web and Twitter hit with people supporting his odd blend of combining politeness and brutal vigilante justice to punish lawbreakers. As time goes on, however, Baz finds his following’s lust for both “justice” and blood (along with his own talent for “punishment”) might have attracted attention from an audience that will force him to spill everything.
More of a black comedy with some thriller elements than horror anything, Stuart Urban’s May I Kill U? is an interesting take on justice and modern celebrity filtered as influenced by the aftermath of the 2011 riots in England. As a refresher, over more than 5 days that August, protests and demonstrations erupted originally believe to be linked to the death of a 29-year-old at police hands during a traffic stop… and, as they progressed, expanded to motives including racism, class structure, the economy, mob mentality, gangs, hooliganism, and so on. Much like as happens in this film, the public wanted the police to take a firmer hand in policing the incidents. When they declined, incidents of vigilante justice began to occur in reaction.
Urban’s story, following a vigilante initially in similar circumstances with some very light dark comedy works because it has a likable protagonist and an interesting visual style. Kevin Bishop is great as Baz. It’s clear he enjoys the notoriety and fame his actions bring him on some level, maybe even feeling like he needs it early on… but never to the point of being a complete psychopath. He also has his own code and rules when it comes to his punishments, not just randomly walking up to criminals and taking them out. He’s not superhuman and is capable of mistakes, leading to some of the movie’s decent comic moments. Most importantly, he has a character arc. At the movie’s start, society, criminals, and his mother walk all over him. As the movie goes on, however, he gains acceptance from, gets power over, and begins taking his life back from each, respectively. A well-written antihero makes you want them to end up happy, a task Urban’s script and Bishop’s acting combine to pull off well.
The movie also has an interesting visual style that stems from the importance of the internet and technology to both the original riots and May I Kill U?’s plot (specifically the movie’s versions of Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter). As such, tweets and replies, Youtube comments, remarks, and text conversations aren’t just shown on a screen. They pop up in the air around Baz as he posts a video, Tweets, or gets texted. It’s a little jarring to see these at first, but they’re easy to get used to and also help make it easier to get into Baz’s head. In addition, they underline the public’s culpability in and responsibility for Baz’s actions because they’re continually clamoring for more, knowing what the consequences will be for Baz’s next target (similar to last year’s also-from-the-UK Panic Button and its all-knowing social network confronting victims with their actions and the consequences of them).
However, something was bothering me about May I Kill U?, and I couldn’t figure out what it was for quite some time. It’s a good movie that I recommend, but something felt… off. I finally figured it out though. The problem… is that I also saw the movie God Bless America this year. God Bless America is a dark comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait in which a man diagnosed with terminal cancer decides, rather than killing himself, to get some guns and go on a vigilante killing spree across the country to take out the stupid, the mean, and those he sees as destroying society (picking up a teenaged sidekick along the way). It’s a bit biased and heavy-handed, but I LOVE God Bless America. I never fully reviewed it for the site because, where May I Kill U? has some light thriller elements in it, God Bless America is pure non-horror black comedy. However, one reason I love it so much is that its comedic take on the vigilante justice idea is very, very dark and doesn’t chicken out on its ending. By comparison, the vigilante story of May I Kill U? feels oddly safe and even a little predictable in a few places. For example, I knew who one of Baz’s last victims was going to be as the movie unfolded because it was the only thing that made any sense for both his character AND the victim. I also was pretty sure that, even though the story tries to build tension as the climax hits, this wasn’t the kind of movie that would take a tremendously dark turn in its last few minutes (in fact, if it had, that would’ve been really bad and clashed with the tone). Neither of those things makes the movie bad. It’s entertaining. It just has the misfortune of coming out the same year when one of the absolute best movies I’ve seen… is also a vigilante justice-related movie.
May I Kill U? is an entertaining, mostly non-horror combo of dark dramedy and thriller. It works because it has a very likable, well-written protagonist with an interesting character arc and because it handles its themes of internet celebrity and riot-inspired vigilante justice well without being too heavy-handed. Its biggest flaws are that it feels predictable at points and a little safe overall, but neither of those should prevent people from giving the movie a look.