William is a nice young author who cannot catch a break. He has no money, his novel has been totally rejected by the publishing industry, and he cannot seem to kill himself. It’s that last one that stings the most. No matter how William tries to commit suicide, some random act of coincidence prevents him. If he jumps off a bridge, a ship suddenly appears below him. If he puts his head in an oven, his gas utility immediately gets shut off. He is the opposite of a Final Destination character.
So it makes sense that he would seek professional help. One day during another failed attempt at ending his days, William is confronted by a professional assassin, Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), and signs a contract stating that Leslie has one week to murder him; quick and painless is the only method he can afford. If he somehow survives the week, he gets his money back and Leslie misses the one last hit he needs to accomplish before he can retire.
It’s a pretty good premise for a film, even if you can already start seeing how it’s all going to play out. Of course William is going to suddenly find a reason to stay alive. And of course the cat and mouse game he finds himself in will be aided by his weird inability to die. Add to that Leslie’s adorable home life, assassin bureaucracy and unwillingness to leave his profession quietly and you have enough elements to joyfully fill 90 minutes despite their predictability.
And make no mistake, this is an adorable, breezy film. You’re not supposed to judge a book from its cover but the title Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) couldn’t do a better job of summarizing the film’s tone and even premise. There is death, even some gore, but this is nevertheless a very very very light black comedy, the kind you can watch with the whole family.
As such, it is often tempting to yearn for more from its premise, even when that is clearly beside the filmmaker’s intention. There is no subversion or true darkness here. You will smile and chuckle; an actual burst of laughter seems unlikely.
Instead of these things, Death in a Week has charm to spare. It’s a joy to watch Tom Wilkinson as an aged, well-meaning assassin, and things only get better whenever Christopher Eccleston appears as his foul-mouthed, irritated superior. The film’s youngsters, Aneurin Barnard and Freya Mavor have chemistry and timing more than adequate for the film’s light comedy and romantic elements.
It all comes together in a very easy going cinematic experience that will mildly please even the most demanding movie-goer. No one is going to walk away super excited either, but such engagement feels outside of the movie’s goals. Dead in a Week just wants to entertain and make folks happy. You might as well let it.