Everyone who watches movies knows about the anti-hero. Hell, there are entire fandoms devoted to monstrous murderers in horror movies like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees. Thanks to the subtle nuances of acting, complex narratives, or the vicarious thrills of watching dumbasses get slaughtered, every cinema fan can sympathize with (or root for) even the most despicable characters. It’s unwise, however, to have a main character do something as cold-blooded and boneheaded as dump a favorite pet out in a field to fend for itself within the first 20 minutes of a movie. Yet that’s exactly what The Hexecutioners does.
The oddly named Malison McCourt is not having a good first day at her new job. She’s a palliative technician who works for LifeSource Closures, a company providing euthanasia services thanks to the recently passed Proposition 177 and the legalization of assisted suicide. Her first client is a grumpy old man who is decidedly not interested in hearing Malison’s prepared speech. It gets worse when she administers the potion that will end the patient’s life: the formerly comatose woman bolts up in her bed, vomits, and then accuses Malison of being a murderer.
The genesis of the LifeSource Closures company is timely, especially in light of the ban on right-to-die measures being recently struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada. With such a premise, the blackly comic tone that The Hexecutioners strikes in the beginning – pitting a nervous, naïve young woman against such a potentially ugly work environment – seems promising. But The Hexecutioners trips all over its ideas and falls flat. And then there’s the whole “leaving your pet cat in a field” part.
Malison’s creepy landlord Mr. Poole (Walter Borden from Gerontophilia) doesn’t like cat ladies and he definitely doesn’t like cat ladies who kill people for a living, so he kicks her out of her apartment. For such a seemingly sensitive soul, Malison does something that feels brutally out of character: she leaves her poor furbaby Lucy in a field on the way to her next job. At this point, I was ready to turn off the movie because I was so enraged. I know that people do bad things to animals in movies all the time, but if it makes sense within the world of the movie, I can deal with it for the most part. This just felt… wrong and made me actively dislike the one person in the movie for whom I was supposed to care.
The Hexecutioners borrows from the central conceits of The Haunting of Hill House in further developing Malison’s story. She’s clearly a socially awkward loner and outcast, who eventually becomes seduced by the dark forces in an old, possibly haunted house. Yet in Shirley Jackson’s novel (and the original 1963 film), we already know that Eleanor has a connection to the paranormal before she gets to Hill House. In The Hexecutioners, however, Malison’s connection comes out of nowhere and is handled with such stereotypical signifiers that it feels clumsy and forced. The film even shoehorns in a vague lesbian subplot that feels like another attempt to pay homage to The Haunting of Hill House instead of actual character development.
Additionally, the balance that the film tries to strike between dark comedy and the darkness that is evoked by Malison’s discovery of an ancient death cult is woefully mishandled. It’s not that there’s a tonal shift from scene to scene; characters are inconsistent within individual scenes, which feels frightfully amateurish, and not in the good way.
By the time the big reveal comes (which includes the previously prudish Malison dropping 20 F-bombs within 30 seconds), we’ve seen so many repetitive flashbacks of what’s REALLY going on, that we aren’t surprised and we don’t even care.
Granted, some of the references to The Tibetan Book of The Dead within the film are real (such as the “sky burial”) and the visuals are well-done, but neither come across as disturbing as they were probably intended. Worst of all, after the film reaches its grisly climax, Malison’s cat miraculously appears outside of the house where all the death cult shenanigans took place.
Maybe Lucy can forgive Malison, but I can’t forgive The Hexecutioners for being a huge, eye-rolling waste of my time.
Watch the trailer for the film here.