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D: Nick Simon / 91m

Cast: Billy Burke, Mark Kelly, Oz Perkins, Kelly Brook, Emma Caulfield, Elliott Gould, Sharon Omi

At the end of his work day, contract cleaner Cole (Kelly) is persuaded to visit a potential client, Sharpe (Perkins) and provide him with an estimate for the work he requires.  When Cole arrives he finds himself bullied into taking on the job, cleaning a very large mansion, that same night.  He also begins to suspect that Sharpe has killed his wife and child and that their bodies might still be in the property.  As he becomes increasingly convinced of their demise, so begins a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Sharpe, a game that quickly escalates into something both unexpected and much grimmer.  And to complicate matters, Cole has a secret of his own…

An uneasy, well-directed thriller, Removal has an edgy, almost hallucinatory quality from the off that helps keep the viewer wrong-footed as the plot advances from its standard everyman thrust into uncharted territory beginning, to its clever denouement.  Set largely within the confines of Sharpe’s mansion, the movie prowls the empty rooms and corridors along with the increasingly suspicious Cole, and as the viewer is drawn into the mystery of whether or not Sharpe has killed his family, two things become evident: that Removal will confound expectations, and that it will prove to be a worthwhile viewing experience.  Much of the storyline is overwhelmingly familiar but in the hands of writer/director Simon and his co-writers Daniel Meersand and Oz Perkins, the familiarity is overlaid with a disconcerting sense that, at any moment, the rug is going to be pulled out from under the viewer’s feet.  And so it proves: two thirds of the way in, the game changes, and it’s a tribute to the creative minds behind Removal – not to mention the committed cast – that it works as well as it does.

Removal - scene

As the main protagonist, Cole, Kelly imbues his character with a measured hang-dog quality, his personal circumstances dictating the ease with which Sharpe manipulates him.  Kelly is never less than believable throughout, and is matched by Perkins (son of Anthony).  Sharpe is an arrogant bully, judgmental and quick to undermine Cole’s already fragile self-esteem.  Perkins plays him with a steely disdain for those he perceives as weaker than himself, and yet he still possesses an off-kilter charm.  Burke acquits himself well, too, despite having less screen time, as an acquaintance of Cole’s, Eric, who finds himself drawn into the mystery.  In smaller roles, Caulfield as Cole’s wife, and Brook as an unlikely estate agent, make an impression, but the one disappointment is Gould: his lines are delivered with all the enthusiasm of someone awaiting root canal treatment.

There’s atmospheric photography courtesy of Kevin Duggin, and a complementary score provided by Nima Fakhrara.  On the negative side, the movie relies a little too much on its game changer to facilitate its ending, and while there is a logical outcome to events, the movie places Cole and Eric in a potentially never-ending situation that could presage a sequel at some point – but which would be unnecessary – and spoils the effect of what has gone before.  However, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers went with the idea.

Rating: 7/10 – an old-fashioned has-he-dunnit tricked out with a more modern sensibility, Removal rewards the viewer by not “talking down” to them; intelligent and very well crafted.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.