Local filmmaker Jyoti Mistry’s violent thriller, Impunity, is tedious almost right from the start. The film begins by showing scenes of a beach, where a young, pretty girl wanders around in a white dress, and another in which she is naked with a man, who’s covered in blood.
Echo (Alex McGregor) and Derren (Bjorn Steinbach) become lovers, after the bar owner they work for rapes Echo, and Derren rescues her. The two violently kill the man, before heading to the beach where they wash off the blood and have sex. This begins their killing spree à la Natural Born Killers. There is no backstory explaining who they are or where they come from.
The couple first take refuge at the home of one of Derren’s preppy, married friends, where there is an inexplicable, unstated sexual tension between the four. It’s not long before that ends in the walls being painted red, for no apparent reason. Everywhere they go, Echo and Derren add to their body count, killing with impunity.
Ironically, when the couple are finally caught, they are implicated in a grisly murder they did not commit. The two are arrested after the mauled body of the daughter of a wealthy government minister is discovered near a safari lodge, where Echo and Derren were waiting tables. The night before, at the woman’s engagement party, she has sex with Derren. However, he insists he didn’t kill her.
The minister employs a corrupt investigator from the Special Crimes Unit, Dingane Fakude (Desmond Dube), to help small town cop, Naveed Khan (Vaneshran Arumugam), solve the case. The story appears to suggest the woman’s fiancé is responsible for her death, but all isn’t as it seems as corruption and greed are revealed to be the motive for the murder.
The non-linear storyline is messy and rough, with sub-plots that are nonsensical. The scenes are bizarrely spliced and interspersed with grainy CCTV footage of Echo and Derren’s crimes, as well as desaturated videos of police officers making various violent arrests that have nothing to do with the story. Add long, awkward silences and sparse dialogue, and you have a film that feels much longer than its 85 minutes.
Mistry has desperately tried to make an ‘arty’ version of Natural Born Killers, but fails to replicate Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino’s proclivity for gratuitous violence to cleverly move a plot forward and, with great cinematic effect to add.
The only thing noteworthy about the film is Alex McGregor’s portrayal of Echo. Previously seen as Christine in the wholesome, Spud 2, in Impunity McGregor exudes a troubled vulnerability that contrasts her bloodthirstiness. “I don’t want to be alone. I want to feel safe”, she tells Derren on the beach, perhaps revealing a motive or at least, a hint at why she’s turned to violence. Derren, however, is just a one-dimensional psychopath.
It’s difficult to be kind about this film. Impunity is incongruous, and vague, and would surely make Tarantino cringe, even as it tries to pay tribute to him. It desperately tries to comment on the culture of violence in South Africa, and the loss of the country’s “moral compass”. It fails, spectacularly.
Reviewers at the Toronto film festival, where it screened last year, weren’t much kinder. One describes how masses of filmgoers left the cinema even before the second set of killings, in search of better entertainment. I spent my viewing wishing I could do the same.
Director: Jyoti Mistry
Cast: Alex McGregor, Bjorn Steinbach, Desmond Dube, Vaneshran Arumugam
Rating: 1½ out of 5
Impunity releases in South African cinemas on 28 August 2015.