Se7en has a lot to answer for. I’ve lost track of the number of movies featuring principled serial killers juxtaposed with society-as-a-moral-toilet. This is all a step on (step down?) from Silence of the Lambs. There was goodness in Silence, and not all the world had gone to hell. But for the new generation of serial killer movies (the sons of Se7en), it’s not enough that the killers are depraved – the world around them seems to guarantee they’d turn nasty. Waz looks at the world and (bar Melissa George) sees nothing it likes. Every scene seems to take place in a morgue or a urinal. Even algebra has turned violent.
In an unnamed city somewhere in America, a serial killer is busy offing folks and carving mathematical equations into their corpses. Stellan Skarsgård is the lead cop on the case – burned-out, laconic, bleary-eyed, Swedish. His partner is Melissa George, a rookie, too pretty for the streets. Every other cop in their department is a belligerent drunk. No-one cares whether Stellan or Melissa catches the killer (all the victims are criminals, or friends or relatives of criminals). Better to let the nut carry on. But Stellan can’t afford to be nonchalant. He knows he’s on the killer’s list, and what w Δ z means.
When you cast Stellan Skarsgård as a cop, you’re entering Bad Lieutenant country. There’s no getting away from it. Skarsgård has a decency about him that’s somehow synonymous with moral depravity – like he’d been decent at twenty, but he spent the next thirty years reading hard-core pornography. He fits right in in Waz. When you first see him, sat in his car on an empty street, you can’t be sure if he’s a cop or a serial killer. And the movie loves him for that. Even when he’s battered and naked toward the end, he keeps his dignity. He’s survived Lars Von Trier and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, so a little nudity and a bit of blood don’t faze him. Skarsgård is a man you’d look to at an orgy.
As his partner, Melissa George looks frightened. She’s an actress who needs more guidance than she gets here. As The Light in the movie, she doesn’t seem to project either the goodness or the toughness that’s required of her. Not that she has a role to match Skarsgård. She’s just there to cry when a body turns up, or to remind the other cops that they don’t get paid solely to drink and speak ill of the dead. She gets a good scene at the end, but her face doesn’t quite register everything the way a better actress might. She needs to look like the last good in the world has ebbed away. Instead, she looks like she just broke-up with her boyfriend.
Where has all the good gone in Waz? According to the killer, good wasn’t even that good to begin with. Like Kevin Spacey or the wooden doll in the Saw movies, this killer is here to teach us a hard lesson in ethics. We’re all programmed to shaft each other, apparently. Genetics have predetermined that altruism is a myth. As the cops figure out a little more of the diabolical plot, it becomes clear that the killer is forcing victims to choose between their life and the life of a loved one. Invariably, it’s the former they pick.
As the killer (don’t panic, this isn’t a who dunnit) Selma Blair is wraith-like, the way she always is; heir to the Ally Sheedy role of girl-you-like-who-frightens-you-a-bit. You’d have good reason to fear her this time. She whacks nails into people’s fingers like a pro. There’s a lot she’s got to sell you in Waz that would be tough for a less spooky actress. But Blair-as-serial-killer isn’t too hard a stretch. Her eyes can go dead when they need to. Her pallor is right for a girl with an underground lair. There’s a rape scene I really wish they hadn’t included in Waz, and Blair, most certainly, should never have agreed to it. But that scene, I guess, makes her character’s point: Selma is sacrificed for Waz.
Ok, we’re all scum. We’re such scum we need a serial killer to point it out. That much is gospel if you’re making a Se7en-like movie. But Waz seems determined to be as unpleasant as possible in telling us how bad we are. Dead children, dead pregnant women, those gleeful close-ups as the nails sink in… I’m the wrong person to review this movie. Se7en made me depressed, and after Saw I felt worse. Waz is good at churning your stomach. You will feel uncomfortable during Selma’s rape. But what’s the payoff? The line between gritty and icky doesn’t get crossed in this movie, it’s carved into people.