Another overly ambitious horror movie that suffers acutely from serious-itis, "The Killing Gene" feels like a film that was trying to be something else -- maybe a dark and bloody episode of "The Wire." It ends up being kind of a cross between "The Wire" and "Saw" -- and only makes you appreciate the "Saw" franchise more.
Like the "Saw" films, "The Killing Gene" -- known as "W Delta Z" in Europe -- operates like a cop drama. Stellan Skarsgard ("Exorcist: The Beginning") plays a chain smoking New York City cop who is breaking in a newcomer, played with enthusiasm and all-out seriousness by Melissa George of "The Amityville Horror" remake and "30 Days of Night".
When the body of a pregnant woman with the symbols W Delta Z carved on her stomach, the two cops suspect gang violence. "If you carve something into the belly of a dead woman, it ain't her you want to read it," Skarsgard explains to his partner.
Investigating further, they realize that the victim was knocked out by a rare compound. When they investigate the only scientist in town that happens to have that compound, they spot W Delta Z scrawned on a chalkboard in his office. After he resists capture, he explains the symbol represents the selfish gene concept -- people want to protect people that they love, that share their DNA in some way. I don't quite remember why the symbols represent that, but needless to say they do.
As more bodies pile up, we learn the killer (who's not the nutty scientist they captured) is forcing people to kill their loved ones or die themselves, in torture porn scenarios somewhat reminiscent of what we saw in "Hostel" or the "Saw" films. To make matters worse, the killer is apparently a gang rape victim (Selma Blair) whose attackers got off because the investigation of their case was bungled by Skarsgard. The victims are the people who got off -- and their loved ones. Things get dire when a child is killed in the process.
The film takes itself way seriously, with deep performance from both Skarsgard, George and Blair as the disturbed rape-survivor turned serial murderer. Like the "Saw" films, the movie's concept is ludicrous, but unlike the "Saw" films, this movie doesn't play like a "Twilight Zone" episode on crack. It's more like an episode of "The Wire" drenched in blood. It's a little depressing.
It doesn't exactly work, but it's at least watchable and has a great cast. I'm kind of on the fence about whether to recommend it. I'd say, go ahead and see it if it's sitting their on a Blockbuster shelf and you've seen most of the other decent titles in the store. But all the "Saw" films are better -- and any episode of "The Wire" is better too.