In the old horror movies, a mad scientist would conduct his experiments in a secluded castle, earning suspicion and mistrust from the nearby villagers. In “Kill Me Please,” a deadpan black comedy from Belgium, the doctor isn’t insane, and there’s no experimenting. He still doesn’t get along with the locals, though, because of what goes on at his facility: it’s a euthanasia clinic.
This is the assisted-suicide comedy you’ve been waiting for! Some of the film’s creative team was involved in “Man Bites Dog,” a 1992 mockumentary about a serial killer, while others were associated with “A Town Called Panic,” the completely unhinged children’s story from a couple years ago. As demonstrated by those films and now by “Kill Me Please,” we need to keep our eyes on the Belgians. They are twisted.
The man who runs the euthanasia clinic is Dr. Krueger (Aurelien Recoing), an eminently sane and rational physician. He isn’t creepy like Dr. Kevorkian, or homicidal like a certain other movie Krueger. He does not help people commit suicide unless they are truly in need. Potential clients are screened carefully, and must submit “audition” videos in which they explain why they want to die and plead for Krueger’s help.
The facility itself resembles a comfortable spa. Clients are invited to stay there for several days leading up to The Event, creating a serene resort environment, like a pitch-black “Fawlty Towers.” A young patient named Virgile (Virgile Bramly, also one of the film’s writers) keeps asking for a violent death rather than the customary drug cocktail. An older woman, Rachel (Zazie De Paris), is a former operatic soprano eager to perform once more before the end. The clinic’s one English-speaking client, Breiman (Saul Rubinek), from Canada, told his wife he’s simply taking a vacation. Krueger encourages his staff of nurses and attendants not to get attached to the patients. “Compassion, yes,” he says. “Friendship, no.”
Also of note is Juliette Evrard (Virginie Efira), a government inspector who has come to the clinic to investigate. Her concern isn’t what Dr. Krueger is doing, though; her concern is whether he’s profiting illegally from it, perhaps by having his soon-to-be-dead clients amend their wills to include him. Help people kill themselves, fine. Just don’t steal from them.
“Kill Me Please” confronts some impressively controversial issues, obviously, and does it without getting sanctimonious. Though social satire plays a part, it isn’t a “message” movie. Directed by Olias Barco, who wrote the screenplay with Virgile Bramly and Stephane Malandrin, the film favors a semi-realistic approach to its not-that-absurd scenario. We don’t have facilities like this in the real world, but if one did open you can imagine people responding to it the way they do here.
Until the last act, that is, when things get bleaker and more violent. Here is where you understand why the film’s behind-the-scenes connection to “Man Bites Dog” is trumpeted on the marketing materials. The uneasy shift in tone doesn’t quite work — the movie has been surprisingly lighthearted up to this point, at least in relation to the subject matter. There’s no denying the conclusion fits thematically, though. You’ll laugh, and you’ll feel a little bad for laughing. If you enjoy that sensation, “Kill Me Please” is definitely worth considering.
B (1 hr., 35 min.; French with subtitles; )