Jesse Thomas Cooke, the Canadian cult filmmaker who brought us Monster Brawl and Septic Man, reunites with Septic Man writer Tony Burgess for his latest feature, The Hexecutioners. The film follows two girls who work for a euthanasia firm, newbie Malison (Liv Collins) and seasoned field agent Olivia (Sarah Power), as they venture into rural territory for a job. Upon arriving, they realize they will have to fight the souls of the damned in order to fill out the dying man’s request.
For Cooke’s fourth feature things are decidedly bigger, there’s a commendable conscious effort to outdo his previous work and, on many counts, he has. Cooke’s debut feature was average snowy slasher Scarce, his follow-up; the Creature Feature wrestling film Monster Brawl, a film made with love and passion, limited by budget. In 2013 he released Septic Man, a modern day ode to The Toxic Avenger in the style of New French Extremism. Burgess’ writing is definitely more interesting here than it was in Septic Man, a film which abandons its charms half-way to boldly pursue a torture porn nihilism of varying success. The Hexecutioners is essentially a classic haunting through the lens of euthanasia and shady occult, Burgess’ writing takes on more themes and characters than he has before, and the strain shows most when characters are inconsistent or their dialogue ill-considered.
Thankfully, there’s a terrific cast on board who seem to appreciate the latent camp fun of a title like The Hexecutioners, without properly hamming it up. Walter Borden (Gerontophilia) makes a wonderful, if woefully underused, appearance as Malison’s cranky zealot landlord. Familiar genre faces Boyd Banks (Jason X, Land of the Dead) and Barry Flatman (the pig guts judge from Saw 3) appear in great cameos, but leave you wanting more. Thankfully, Cooke gives more screen time to Tim Burd (Obi from the Saw franchise), a great performer who appeared all too briefly in Septic man as a deranged cannibal. Burd has a natural eeriness that, like Borden and Boyd, can be directed in awkward, freaky, or hilarious directions at the drop of hat. He’s a big reason for sustained interest when things start getting confusing.
The film is definitely Cooke’s most accomplished cinematically, pulling on numerous sets to build a classic occult atmosphere, which often works. The two biggest problems arise with preposterous CGI stonemasonry and a selective colouring in the story’s crescendo, a trick which makes the film look cheap and drains much drama from the already mortifying scene presented. Apart from that there’s a great use of space around the old house, one particular sequence sees Malison terrorized through the halls by images of her own suicide, the camera sweeping frantically from ghost to ghost. Sequences like this are scattered throughout The Hexecutioners, but never so consistently as to really enjoy.
As with Septic man, Cooke has issues knowing exactly what tone to stick with. The setting and scares are often evocative of classic haunted house films whilst the black mass scenes are Hammer camp in the way of The Devil Rides Out. Olivia is introduced like the Grindhouse femme fatale of the euthanasia business and Flatman’s turn enforces just as much. This is fine because Sarah Power pulls it off, even carrying much of the film’s character when Malison becomes grating. But it all builds into one mix of genre ideas that never quite figures whether it wants to be an intense psychological haunting or a schlocky film about ghosts and ritual suicide with a Fulci influence.
Jesse Thomas Cooke’s most ambitious project to date is big on genre imagery but doesn’t quite come together, even then, it’s enjoyable enough and marks a step forward in Cooke and Burgess’ working relationship.
Dir. Jesse Thomas Cooke
Stars: Liv Collins, Sarah Power, Tim Burd, Walter Borden, Boyd Banks