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Kill Me Three Times

D: Kriv Stenders / 90m

Cast: Simon Pegg, Sullivan Stapleton, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Callan Mulvey, Bryan Brown, Luke Hemsworth

In the small Western Australian town of Eagle’s Nest, bar owner Jack (Mulvey) suspects his wife, Alice (Braga), is having an affair.  He’s a jealous man, and hires a “consultant”, Charlie Wolfe (Pegg), to find out if his suspicions are true.  Meanwhile, Alice has been chosen by dentist Nathan Webb (Stapleton) and his wife Lucy (Palmer) to be the substitute corpse in their plan to fake Lucy’s death and claim on her life insurance (Nathan has huge gambling debts that he needs to clear as quickly as possible).  When Wolfe provides proof of Alice’s infidelity – with garage owner Dylan (Hemsworth) who she plans to run away with – Jack wants her dead and asks Wolfe to take care of it.

Alice books an appointment with Nathan for later that day, and the Webbs decide it’s the perfect opportunity to put their plan into action.  When Alice arrives, she’s drugged  and put into the boot of Nathan’s car.  Lucy drives Alice’s car to a nearby quarry while Nathan heads there in his car, though he has to stop off at Dylan’s garage for some petrol first.  At the quarry, a mishap with Alice’s car sees it still end up in the water as planned, and the Webbs head back to the main road where, despite an attempt by Alice to get away, they put her in Lucy’s car, douse it in petrol and set light to it, and send it over the cliff edge.

Unknown to the Webbs, Wolfe has been following and taking photos of them.  When they reach a local beach house where the owners are away travelling (and where Lucy will hide out until the insurance money comes through), Wolfe sends Nathan an e-mail containing some of the photos he’s taken and demanding $250,000.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, local bent cop Bruce Jones (Brown), having seen Lucy’s car in flames at the bottom of the cliff has put two and two together and believes Nathan has actually killed her for the insurance money.  He blackmails Nathan for half the insurance money.

Back at the bar, Wolfe tells Jack that Alice is dead (though he keeps quiet about the details) and asks for his money.  It’s now that Jack discovers Alice has robbed him over three hundred thousand dollars he had in his safe.  He manages to put off paying Wolfe until the next day, but finds himself in even more trouble when Dylan turns up demanding to know where Alice is and what he’s done to her.  And while all that’s happening, Nathan agrees to meet Wolfe at the quarry to pay the blackmail demand…

Kill Me Three Times - scene

What follows on is an increasingly maze-like series of twists and turns and counter-twists that make Kill Me Three Times a hugely enjoyable and darkly comic thriller that picks up momentum after a slow start, and gleefully begins killing off its cast in ever more violent ways.  It’s a fine balancing act, mixing traditional thriller elements with a more extravagant comic sensibility, but without letting either ingredient overwhelm the other.  It’s the kind of off-kilter movie the Australians do so well and here, under the auspices of director Stenders, proves that they’re still more than capable of making this kind of movie and instilling it with originality and verve.

The movie’s chief asset is the script by first-timer James McFarland.  Structured in three parts – part one focuses on Alice’s murder by the Webbs, part two on the various back stories and how things move forward following Alice’s death, while part three ties things up neatly and in a nice big bloodstained bow – Kill Me Three Times avoids any potential pitfalls in its narrative by making its characters’ motivations quite clearcut and even relatable (whether you like them or not).  With such an investment made in the characters, the story is that much easier to accept and go along with, and despite an opening half hour where everything is established (and is necessarily slower than the rest of the movie), once all that is dispensed with, the movie becomes faster, funnier and more engrossing.

Behind the camera, Stenders – who made the criminally under seen Red Dog (2011) – shows a keen understanding and appreciation for the impulses driving the characters and elicits great performances from all concerned.  He’s also got a great eye for composition, highlighting the natural beauty of the Western Australia landscape and shoreline, and framing each shot with skill and conviction.  As a result the movie is often stunning to look at, his collaboration with very talented DoP Geoffrey Simpson paying off in dividends.

As the amoral psychopath Charlie Wolfe, Pegg is on fine form, inhabiting him with a carefree exuberance and just the right amount of bemused mirth.  As the observer of all the machinations and double-crosses and manipulations and blackmail going on, Wolfe is our eyes and ears, allowing us to see just how awful these people are – Alice and Dylan aside, though they’re not entirely innocent.  In a sense, his lack of artifice and straightforward approach to matters makes him seem less “evil” and more of an anti-hero.  Whichever way you view it, it’s still one of Pegg’s more enjoyable performances (and he gets the movie’s best line).

In support, Stapleton is great as the nervous, weak-minded Nathan (a million miles away from his turn as Themistocles in this year’s 300: Rise of an Empire), Palmer is suitably abrasive as his Lady Macbeth-like wife, and Braga earns the audience’s sympathy and support by virtue of being entirely likeable as the put-upon Alice.  Brown does glib menace with aplomb, Hemsworth makes dumb seem appealing, and Mulvey broods as if Jack’s life depends on it (which, actually, it does).  It’s a great ensemble cast, and you can see the fun everyone had making the movie coming out in the spirited and enthusiastic performances.

Kill Me Three Times won’t change anyone’s life, or inspire people to go on to do great things, but it is an entertaining and rewarding way to spend an hour and a half, and if it does so by shamelessly drawing in the viewer and keeping them hooked on what’s going to happen next, then that’s no bad thing, even if things do get (very) nasty and violent.

Rating: 8/10 – a hugely enjoyable romp that takes itself just seriously enough to make the thriller elements bitingly effective, Kill Me Three Times is at times happily “wrong” in all the right ways; with beautiful locations and a great cast clearly having a blast, this is strong, confident stuff that’s definitely worth seeking out.