Parents often express mild consternation at exam boards who force their beloved children to blindly parrot facts rather than to develop their own voice and ideas. Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back), the debut feature film by Tom Edmunds, feels like the product of a particularly stringent exam board which requires every timeworn movie convention present and accounted for before they’ll sign off with a passing mark.
We’ve got the foppish, depressive rogue with tousled black hair in Aneurin Barnard’s depressive wannabe author, William. The feisty love interest in Freya Mavor’s outspoken literary editor, Ellie. The lovable oldster with a shady backstory in Tom Wilkinson’s Leslie. And much silly humour which draws on Hollywood namechecking and gentle mockery of parochial English manners.
The film’s somewhat flimsy conceit proposes a world in which the occupation of assassin is less a case of dancing between the shadows and deposing world leaders with an immaculately aimed sniper’s bullet, and more like working in a call centre selling double glazing. Each month, you solicit business from potential clients, and you must exceed your target before being allowed to stay on.
Old hand Leslie has taken to stalking suicide hotspots in order to reach his goals, offering his services to those about to end it all. It’s there he meets William, and is able to sign off a deal that he’ll be murdered some time in the coming week. But as soon as our frazzled hero has recklessly signed his life away, his dire situation takes a sharp turn for the sentimentally life affirming.
It does what it needs to do at all times, even if the various twists are visible from several lightyears away. Edmunds doesn’t quite do enough to make you really care whether William is eventually whacked out, but as the story gently putters on, it becomes clear that Leslie is the central focus, and it’s all about the mortal fear of being put out to professional pasture. Despite his loving marriage to crochet maestro Penny (a scene-stealing Marion Bailey), he feels as if life will lose all of its pleasant structure if he no longer has a reason to get up in the morning.
Yet, as various antagonists enter the fray (Christopher Eccleston going full geezer-core), it turns out there’s still some puff in the old boy yet. A solid, fitfully charming calling card movie, but sadly nothing more than that.