Film Review: Small Town Killers (Denmark, 2017) never completely commits to its nasty premise

Like fellow Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier and Nicholas Winding Refn, Ole Bornedal made the leap from his homeland to Hollywood, though he opted for more an entertaining stance on his career as opposed to the heavy artistry his peers practiced; Bornedal was behind the rather unspectacular 2012 haunted house pic The Possession, whilst von Trier and Refn helmed such respective controversial pieces as Antichrist and Only God Forgives.

Settling on Denmark to backdrop his latest work, Bornedal proves a competent director with Small Town Killers, a decidedly dark, though only occasionally funny outing that never completely commits to its nasty premise.  Said premise revolves around tradesmen Ib (Nicholas Bro) and Edward (Ulrich Thomsen), two unhappily married friends whose wives (Mia Lyhne and Lene Maria Christensen) deny them any sexual pleasures in favour of attending salsa classes where they swoon at their attractive, though unattainably homosexual instructor.

Learning that divorce will be far too expensive, not to mention obtaining knowledge that their wives are aware of the undeclared fortune they have been stacking away on the sly, Ib and Edward hire a Russian hitman to take their spouses out.  Understandably, the two immediately regret their decision, and when contract killer Igor (Marcin Dorocinski) arrives they scramble to think of an excuse to move him on his way.  Matters are made particularly worse when, in a drunken ramble, Igor inadvertently spills to the wives that he’s been hired to bump them off, forcing the equally dissatisfied women to take matters into their own hands – enter Miss Nippleworthy (Gwen Taylor).

As amusingly named as she is, and her British demeanour proves massively disarming, Nippleworthy is just as dangerous as Igor, and it’s through her introduction that Small Town Killers looks to create something of a farcical set-up that could be quite the pay-off for invested viewers.  Though the film ultimately switches the roles so that the nervous quartet of spouses are alarmingly comfortable in taking care of their own business, Bornedal’s script feels like it’s too afraid to let its characters be truly despicable; there appears to be a constant need for the writer/director to make his players likeable, despite their actions proving otherwise.

The film’s bleak aesthetic suits its off-kilter story, and despite its European sensibilities Small Town Killers doesn’t indulge in material that’s overtly violent, more so allowing its dialogue to be the darkest aspect of the story.  The performances on hand are all uniformly acceptable too, with Taylor and Dorocinski leaving the biggest impression as the hired killers, making the film’s overall blandness all the more disappointing.

With a more biting edge and commitment to its own horrible personality, Small Town Killers could be a real treat for audiences who indulge in non-conforming storytelling but, sadly, Bornedal banked on a more traditional temperament, which ultimately hinders his story more than it helps.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Small Town Killers is in select cinemas 31st August 2017