Picture an Irish version of Fight Club and that is Peter Murphy and Rachael Moriarty’s debut feature length film. Actually, more precisely the film is more like Kill Club. But more about that later…The two directors have written screenplays and directed together for about 16 years and yet this is their first feature length film. Previously they have done short films and a television mini-series. In their debut they have taken a rather far out there idea and constructed a really convincing and realistic feeling film.
High wage earning traders have suddenly found themselves without jobs after a scandal and an incredible amount of money is lost. You don’t recover from this type of loss in the financial world and you don’t get another chance. These are desperate times for those out of work. An older man, several times married with loads of kids to support, sees no way out and believes he will not get a job making the kind of money he needs to maintain his lifestyle, so he drives his car straight into a tree killing himself. That leaves a pair of younger out of work types, Harry Fox (Killian Scott – ’71, Calvary) and Vernon Styles (John Bradley – from television’s Game of Thrones).
Harry has a great apartment and is determined to keep it, but all he can find for the meantime is a low paying data entry job. He figures he only has a couple of months leeway and then he’ll be evicted. Vernon is the more upbeat type and has more wiggle room as he has moved back in with his parents. Using his computer programming skills, he is trying to start his own business using the laptop he stole from the company. After not having much success he goes out into left field with his new idea which he pitches to Harry.
A real stats buff, Vernon knows that every time the unemployment rate goes up one percent the rate of suicide also goes up 0.8 percent. It is called econocide. And with the Irish economy on another downswing there are plenty of desperate people. So based on that he has developed a kill club he is calling Traders. The premise is that two stranger agree to trade online where they have put up an agreed upon amount of money. They then meet later at a pub, ride the bus together, go to a remote location, dig a grave, and then fight to the death. The loser ends up in the grave and the winner has doubled their money.
At first Harry blows it off as ridiculous then agrees with Vernon and he being the first Traders. Vernon chickens out in the middle of it and then when his friend has his guard down, goes after Harry. In the scuffle Vernon ends up falling on his own knife and stabbing himself in the left shoulder. Knowing that they cannot go to the hospital, Harry takes the heavily bleeding Vernon back to his place to heal and while Vernon lies in bed Harry sees that the website is taking off. There is money to be made if you have the physical strength, wits and stomach for it.
The dark humour in this Irish film works well if you can allow yourself to laugh while the body count and violence grows. Screenwriting and directing partners Peter Murphy and Rachael Moriarty do their best not present this macabre premise in a totally gloomy way. The characters and situations in the film are rather woeful and pathetic, but there is also that thrill of seeing them meet and know that one of them is not going to live. That thrill counteracts the darkness of the situation. Harry, who is the narrator, does not become a monster when he is pulled into this life of basically killing for money. He uses it to become a more confident and emboldened person. The way the story is presented you really don’t hate these financially strapped individuals who engage in Traders.
This is a crazy premise for a film and by all rights it should not work. And yet it does in really fine fashion. The Irish as a people are known for having a very developed sense of irony and it is used in full fashion in Traders. Yes, it is quite violent at times, but that didn’t bother me. Despite the fact that I myself am a total pacifist, I found myself really into what was going on and enjoying every moment of it. You can totally relate to how desperate Harry is to get his mojo back and live in the lifestyle he has become accustomed to. Desperate times equalling desperate measures and the like. It really is human nature to want to preserve what you have and the directors have tapped into this truth.
The two leads in the film really turn in bang up performances. Killian Scott makes the transition from defeated and desperate man to successful Trader seem realistic. John Bradley as the weaselly Vernon has created a character that you want to see get his comeuppance.
Bottom line is that this was one of my favourite films of the Fantasia festival.