If you are reading this review right now, you are most likely on the Internet (sure, it’s possible someone printed it out for you, and you’re reading this in a sunny park while on a picnic, and that is both very charming and very weird, but let’s be honest with ourselves here – you’re on the Internet). Listen to me very closely. Get off the Internet. Turn off your computer or phone or tablet and get some sunshine. There’s nothing good left here.
At least, that’s probably how you will feel after watching Andrew Douglas’ uwantme2killhim?, a fact-based teen drama that makes the worldwide web look like a playground for exactly two types of people: socially inept lunatics and complete morons. If this film was not based on an actual true story, someone would have had to invent it, and then we would have all called that person an idiot, because the plot of uwantme2killhim? is so profoundly ridiculous, impossible to believe, and plain weird that it almost can’t seem real. But it is.
The basic bones of the story are actually believable enough, especially in a modern society that spends so much of its time living in a virtual world. High school hottie Mark (Jamie Blackley) is a popular, shaggy-haired teen that gets plenty of female attention both on and off the computer, though his heart clearly belongs to a girl he’s never met – the sexy Rachel (Jaime Winstone), whom he chats with every day. (Mark’s dedication to Rachel is so profound, in fact, that at one point, he literally rolls over in bed after engaging in sex with a classmate, only to fire up her computer to try to chat with Rachel. Romance!) Mark and Rachel’s relationship is highly sexual (it’s sext-heavy, basically), but there seem to be real emotions at play for both of them.
It’s just really unfortunate that the two can never meet because Rachel’s nefarious boyfriend Kevin (Mingus Johnston) is a violent bastard and the duo are in the Witness Protection Program, thanks to Kevin’s previously gangster-bent activities. Yes, the Witness Protection Program. Save your eye-rolling for later.
Mark may not be able to help Rachel, but he can help someone – her younger brother John (Toby Regbo), who just so happens to attend Mark’s school. Will Mark be nice to him? Look after him? Even though he’s a bullied weirdo? Will he do it for Rachel? He will. As the film opens with Mark, puffing through the darkened streets, clearly on a mission and with a single item in his hand – a knife, wrapped in plastic so that only the very tip sticks out – that is soon stuck entirely into John’s belly, it’s obvious that Rachel’s plan hasn’t gone according to plan.
Or has it?
Rachel’s seemingly simple request for a bit of kindness from Mark soon spirals outward, and he finds himself entangled in an actual web of web-based deception so twisted, convoluted, and complex that it seems too weird to possibly be true. Yet Mark, so devoted to Rachel and so content in believing the truth of everything he reads on the Internet, doesn’t quite get that his situation is built on both profound lies and his utter idiocy. The attempted trick of uwantme2killhim? – that it’s told from Mark’s perspective as if everything that is happening to him is actually happening – loses steam early once it becomes clear that the film is really building off Mark’s perceptions.
The film flips between two time periods – before John’s stabbing and just after – and attempts to unravel Mark’s reasoning for trying to kill his supposed best friend (Mark’s early admission that he did it “for the greater good” only intensifies the mystery). Douglas holds his dueling time periods together quite well, though they never convey the tension he appears to be aiming for. It doesn’t help that the “twist” of uwantme2killhim? seems to be fairly obvious quite early on, and flipping between time periods only prolongs some inevitable and eventual reveal.
As much of the film centers on online chats between Mark and a large cast of characters, Douglas is often tasked with making something that’s visually boring – onscreen text in an outdated chat room format – feel live and real. Somewhat cleverly, he has his stars read their chats out loud, as if conducting live interpersonal conversations. Occasionally, those conversations spin out into full visualizations, with the chatting players “meeting” in the real world. It’s not a perfect way to portray text-based talking in a dramatic manner, but it’s one of the best approximations possible and it certainly helps the Internet speak that pervades the film (no, the title is not a unique stylistic tic) go down a fair bit more easily than it otherwise would – turns out, “I luv u 2” actually carries real weight with the younger set! – even if the film it taps out doesn’t.
The Upside: The story is weird enough to keep audiences interested; Douglas does a good job making typing seem exciting and intimate; attempts to tell a bizarre story in an interesting and unique fashion
The Downside: Despite attempt to trick and twist, the film’s “secrets” are fairly obvious and easy to unravel; the tension doesn’t hold; never capitalizes on actually saying something profound about the digital age
On the Side: The true story that inspired the film was previously covered in a Vanity Fair article (which you can read here), though it’s obviously one giant spoiler.