The Knife That Killed Me
Ambitious but flawed teen drama from Kit Monkman and Marcus Romer boasting a bold visual style
Given the title, it's no spoiler to say The Knife That Killed Me opens with a lethal stabbing. Paul Varderman (Jack McMullen) then narrates his way through the events that led to this fateful encounter with the blade: moving to Leeds after his mum dies, trying to fit in at his new school, falling in love with Maddy (Rosie Goddard), getting involved with school bully Roth (Jamie Shelton) and eventually a turf war.
Based on Anthony McGowan's young adult novel this morality tale deals with the frustration of adolescence. Paul struggles to find his place in the world, negotiating the social cliques at school while drifting from his father (Reece Dinsdale) at home. He finds friendship among the 'freaks' and their de facto leader Shane (Oliver Lee) but still gets pulled to the dark side.
What's most startling about The Knife That Killed Me is its near-monochromatic visual style. Filmed entirely on a green screen stage in Yorkshire built specifically for the movie, it comes across like a teenage Sin City. At first the design work is striking, adding annotations in the form of scrawled messages, graphics and graffiti; and the technique is employed to remarkable effect as multiple images are overlaid. However, after a while it becomes repetitive, as every scene is painted with the same overcast greys and heavy black.
The method means everything appears flat and stagey. Transitions are awkward and when characters walk any distance (particularly towards the screen) it looks unnatural, like they're moving on a treadmill. The over-stylisation removes the action from reality, so that the film resembles a nightmarish urban cartoon and this disconnection means it's hard to get emotionally involved in the unfolding drama.
McMullen just about carries the film but regrettably some of the other performances are less successful. It's an ambitious project from directors Kit Monkman and Marcus Romer, who are attempting something never before seen in British cinema. Their ambition is to be applauded; The Knife That Killed Me is a very interesting but nevertheless flawed experiment.
Selected release from Fri 24 Oct.