The Young Poisoner’s Handbook

Here’s one for fans of A Clockwork Orange (it even uses Purcell’s “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary,” otherwise known as the “Title Music” from Clockwork). Hugh O’Conor, who played the young Christy Brown in My Left Foot, looks a bit here like John Cusack with Peter Lorre’s buggy eyes. As Graham Young, a British kid with an unnatural interest in chemistry, O’Conor lets those eyes pop open wide as he stares without malice at the results of his work: unsuspecting friends and family members expiring slowly and painfully from poison. As he “experiments” dispassionately, we hear his narration explaining how everything is going according to plan. This first feature by Benjamin Ross is striking for its consistent perverse tone of muted sadistic optimism, yet when we see what Graham’s experiments do to people, especially his wretchedly suffering stepmother, whatever laughter we might’ve indulged in is cut off coldly. A remarkable experience, brother to Clockwork Orange in more ways than one, yet also its own chilly beast. O’Conor delivers one of the great hateful/sympathetic performances. This deserves better than the relative obscurity it’s been dealt. I was surprised to find that the writer/director is the same Benjamin Ross who directed the universally yawned-at RKO 281. Don’t hold that against him.

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