Not often we touch base in the good old US of A, and probably even less often we have the chance to review a film with a host of well-known actors in it. That's not to say we've not watched and reviewed many well-acted films, but with a cast including Stellan Skarsgaard, Tom Hardy, Selma Blair and Melissa George we are probably swimming in a bigger pond than we are used to. This is a film I watched many years back and remembered liking without necessarily hanging on to the details, so I figured WAZ would be worth a revisit. Strictly the UK title is W-Delta-Z, but it's going to be more trouble than its worth to find the Delta symbol on Word..
WAZ is one of the grittiest films you're ever liable to see, and doesn't mess around at all from the get go. We're effectively inserted into two police officers investigating what initially looks like a gang killing, but as the exploration of the murder deepens it becomes apparent there's far more to it. With the equation W-Delta-Z cut into the flesh of one of the victims, algebra rather than any kind of gang tag, something much darker is unveiled. The equation itself – in its fullness – is all about the idea of altruism, whether animals in nature (or indeed people) are able to act truly altruistically. How much would somebody give for somebody they love, they care for, for love or family?
This theory is being put to the test by Jean Learner, many years before the victim of a horribly brutal rape and assault at the hands of the gang whose members are being picked off one by one. Having endured four hours of violence and sexual assault, the gang gave her a simple choice – we can either carry on our kill your mother in front of you. Desperate and broken, Jean agrees to the latter, but for some reason the case simply didn't stick with the police. So years on, she has decided to take the law into her own hands by providing a similar test for those who tortured her so much...
The extreme elements here are more about pure concept. The outlook and visuals are horribly bleak and unremitting, for sure, but there are only two scenes that will really have you cringing and watching through your fingers – one a short montage of that violent attack on Jean, the other the only direct sight we have of the torture device she has developed and the vengeance she exacts. The actual idea of somebody hurting you so much until you are willing to actually let someone you love be killed – a young mother and drug addict finally concedes to her three year old son being murdered in front of her eyes in the one that really hit home with me as a viewer.
As a movie itself, I think WAZ might just be one of the lost horror classics of the last decade. The acting throughout is fantastic, the style and direction are excellent, the soundtrack adds to the tension and man is it tense. The whole thing is really uncomfortable, edge of the seat viewing, tautly plotted and powerfully delivered. It doesn't pull punches despite not being as graphic as many films we've looked at in these pages – it retains a sort of indy feel despite what is undoubtedly a larger budget and a stellar cast. Paul Kaye in particular has a standout cameo as a dubious doctor exploring the idea of altruism in animals – somebody I've mainly known for comic roles but very sinister here.
In these pages and elsewhere I've been pretty openly critical of what I call 'Hollywood Horror', but this is something of an exception – a thriller/horror to match if not surpass one of my favourite series in the shape of Saw. Unfortunately this one was too tightly plotted and self-contained to justify a sequel, but had there been one I would have merrily watched it. Do yourself a favour and check this one out if you haven't yet – it's truly gripping and a movie I found it impossible to turn away from.
RATING: 10/10. Not a mark I've dished out here a lot. I did remember liking this a great deal first time around, but on a second watch this one actually made a bigger impression. As much a thriller as a horror movie, this is a wonderfully psychological movie with a fascinating moral question at its very heart, one that will resonate with viewers and leads to a final scene that almost had me in tears. Playing out like a grimmer, grimier version of Saw this one features great characterisation, impeccably paced storytelling and strong performances from a wonderful cast. Director Shankland now seems to work largely in TV, which on this evidence is something of a loss to horror cinema.