Who among us doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with social media? Its benefits are numerous, but the toll that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms take on knowledge, empathy, awareness, and sometimes even our own lives is immense. Everyone comes back for more, though, and that need has proved fresh fodder for genre films from the lows of #Horror (2015) to the highs of Tragedy Girls (2017). The latest entry into the subgenre takes a more direct approach, as terror unfolds during a live-stream video, but Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break takes the additional step of delivering that commentary and carnage with… laughs?
Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) has a dream, and that dream is to take the top spot on the hot online talent competition Trend Ladder. Like some bastardized version of Britain’s Got Talent, it involves people competing through all manner of talents, skills, and awkward displays in order to get voted up by online viewers. It’s Paul’s dream, but the combination of his own incompetence and the selfish behaviors of five others make him late for an audition, which instantly knocks him from the running. Angry, frustrated, and crushed that he was unable to showcase his talents for his ailing mother, Paul decides he’s had enough. He retraces his steps with plans to kill each of the five who ruined not just his day but his entire future — and he plans on doing it all over the course of one lunch break.
Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a bloody, violent comedy that’s walking a very fine line with its premise. This world has already seen actual killers live-stream their efforts, and it’s nothing less than horrifying, and while recent films (Spree, Run Hide Fight) have tackled the act with more seriousness, this British film is targeting laughs and sweetness alongside the kills. The result is a movie that, while inconsistent, delivers an entertaining ride with a warm heart at its center.
Director/co-writer Nick Gillespie is perhaps best known for his work with Ben Wheatley (Kill List, In the Earth), but after his much more somber directorial debut, Tank 432 (2015), his sophomore effort takes a much lighter tact. The more serious aspects of a man live-streaming a trail of carnage are either softened or ignored altogether in favor of finding the funny and the sweet in an underdog’s tale. You see, Paul’s not technically killing these people despite his intentions, as each of them instead falls victim to accidents and misfortune — bloody, gory accidents and misfortune. Like Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010), it lets both Paul and the film’s viewers off the hook and instead allows everyone to simply have a good time.
Well, everyone but the jerks who crossed Paul’s path in the first place. His terrible morning turns him into a wannabe Michael Douglas in 1993’s Falling Down — and who can blame him — but try as he might, he just can’t take a life. Happily, circumstance can, and Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break offers a steady stream of supporting players, including Alice Lowe, Kris Marshall, and Jarred Christmas, delivering performances and characters that demand comeuppance. Their demises are a wonderfully gory and creative display of prosthetic effects work, and while the folks cheering it on via Trend Ladder have some explaining to do, the rest of us will be nodding guilt-free with joy.
The script, by Brook Driver, Matthew White, and Gillespie, raises questions and offers minor condemnation regarding our incessant drive towards — and need of — social media acceptance, but it’s never all that interested in taking the subject too seriously. Paul is a good guy who deserves our empathy, something typically lacking online, and while he’d be devoured, chewed up, and spit out immediately in the real world, he’s a perfect underdog. We’re meant to take his side from the start, despite his inability to take a stand until it becomes homicidal, and we’re happy to do just that, given the vile nature of his targets. Is his talent actually worth celebrating? Who are we to say, but kindness and cruelty are powerful motivators. Meeten’s performance goes a long way in this regard, as his Paul is a genuinely nice guy who’s understandably being kicked while he’s down.
Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a fun, bloody, and ultimately heartfelt look at a goofball unprepared for the harsh realities of life. We share his frustrations, and while we can’t kick off a death spree without serious repercussions, there’s a good time to be had watching his own unfold on screen. Would we vote him up the ladder if all of this was real? Probably.