Suicide has always been a somewhat touchy subject in entertainment, and not exactly one primed for comedy. Many a film or show has attempted to make light of the issue, but not many have succeeded in eliciting the laughs desired. Director Tom Edmunds’ Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) just about finds the right balance between macabre and hysterical, resulting in an engaging and character-driven comedy caper equal-parts dark and diverting.
Aneurin Barnard stars as William, a troubled twenty-something intent on ending his life. Unfortunately for him, none of his suicide attempts are succeeding. Enter the mysterious Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), an aging assassin who offers to do the job for him. William eagerly signs the contract, but when his life starts to dramatically improve, he soon finds the contract is non-refundable, placing him and his loved ones in terrible danger.
For a film about suicide, Dead in a Week is surprisingly life-affirming – a cosy black-comedy that champions all the little moments that make life worth living. That’s not to say it isn’t grisly in places, nor does it hold back on the dark humour for an instant. But the sense of positivity that comes from the characters lends the film a greater degree of heart and dramatic weight than anyone could have expected.
None of this is evermore present then in the film’s domestic scenes, which depict Leslie and his wife Penny (Marion Bailey) together in their seemingly average semi-retired lifestyle, complete with pillow embroidery, pet budgies and retirement cruise plans. Leslie’s character may be a killer-for-hire, but the narrative presents us a layered and relatable figure, terrified by the prospect of retirement and eager to prove his worth in a business full of youthful up-and-comers. Tom Wilkinson is captivating in the role, lending a vulnerability and empathetic gentleness to the cold-hearted contract killer, whilst his chemistry with the adorable and equally funny Marion Bailey is a joy to watch.
The dialogue sparkles with wit throughout, with each cast-member delivering almost every gag to its full desired effect. The more action-orientated set pieces don’t land as well, but the characters and their unorthodox reactions to the more outlandish incidents anchor the film and ensure plenty of laughs. In particular, Christopher Eccleston as Leslie’s no-nonsense boss Harvey steals the show, his diatribe regarding Michael J. Fox an especially brilliant piece of comedy acting and masterful timing.
Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) may make light of suicide in places, but its ultimately positive outlook saves it from appearing insensitive. The laughs are plentiful and the performances a treat, whilst the direction results in the right mix of shock value and subtlety where it counts. Whilst it may initially take a glib approach to exploring death and suicide, it ultimately delivers an affirming and optimistic approach to its story and characters (despite all the blood and murder it splashes across the screen).
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Aneurin Barnard, Christopher Eccleston, Freya Mavor, Marion Bailey Director: Tom Edmunds Writer: Tom Edmunds Certificate: 15 Duration: 90 mins Released by: Rather Good Films Release date: 16 November 2018