What if Stan Lee wrote Se7en? That’s the basic hook of Spanish thriller Unknown Origins – a film about a serial killer who styles all his murders after comic book characters. Landing somewhere between a buddy cop comedy, a grown-up noir and a TV-grade superhero show, the tone is all over the place, but it has just enough good ideas to make it worth a watch.
Javier Rey is David, a strait-laced, no-nonsense detective who partners up with sage old Cosme (Antonio Resines) on his last day before retirement. In other words, the film starts off exactly like Se7en, with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s characters given a modern Madrid makeover. The first call of the day takes them to a grisly crime scene (complete with torches, rusty chains, and a thick haze of David Fincher grime) where a mild-mannered scientist has been force-fed steroids and skin-pigmentation drugs until he dies looking like The Incredible Hulk. Nearby, a page has been ripped out of an early Marvel comic, with the words “origin story” scratched into it – a not-so-subtle clue about what the killer’s MO might be.
Next up is a weapon’s dealer with his heart ripped out, Iron Man style, but before the case gets any weirder Cosme’s last day is already over, leaving Rey on his own. Luckily, Cosme has the perfect man to help him out – his geeky grown-up son Jorge (Brays Efe). Looking and sounding like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, Jorge is everything Rey isn’t – covered in Wotsit dust, completely incapable in a fight, and a fountain of knowledge on superheroes.
Now a reluctant double act, Rey and Jorge work through the clues to catch up with a killer who’s busy using fire, ice, acid, venomous spiders and hallucinogenic drugs to carve out his own supervillain story on the bodies of random victims throughout the Madrid underworld. “If all the murders were based on the seven deadly sins, it’d be a lot easier to solve,” says Jorge at one point – practically winking at the camera.
The roots of David Galán Galindo’s film might run deep into grown-up ’90s thrillers, but it often seems like he would have rather made a full-on comedy instead. Or maybe a superhero movie. Or a romcom. Whatever Unknown Origins is, it doesn’t stay that way for long. Rey and Jorge can be found arm deep in intestines at grisly autopsies one-minute and driving around bickering to the Batman theme song the next. The third-wheel addition of Police Commissioner Norma (Verónica Echegui) confuses things even more. She’s written as a by-the-book boss who also moonlights as a cosplay sewing instructor.
By the time Rey and Norma start coldly flirting with each other, the film has already veered off into even odder territory by trying to become an original superhero origin story of its own. However much the film starts off as a quirky reimagining of Se7en, it ends up wanting to be the next Watchmen instead.
It’s a shame that Galindo didn’t stick with the one part of the script that works best – the double act between Rey and Jorge that would have made a great comedy without any of the extra furniture. It’s not difficult to see how a savvy Hollywood producer might look at Unknown Origins and recast an American remake that mines a bit more humour from the idea that a moody detective has to partner up with a geeky gamer to solve crimes. Then again, there’s a weird amount of fun to be had in watching a film that tries to squeeze itself into five different pigeonholes instead of just one.
- Director: David Galán Galindo
- Starring: Javier Rey, Brays Efe, Verónica Echegui
- Release date: August 28 (Netflix)