From 1978 through 1990 the Soviet Union’s most prolific serial killer continued to claim victims while police struggled to find any leads for more than a decade before he was finally captured. By the time he was sentenced to death, Andrei Chikatilo had murdered 54 people, mostly young boys and girls. In addition to the horrific details and sheer number of killings, this proved to be an early case in the study of serial killers, with a psychological profile being created of the man in order to aid in his capture, a concept that was just starting to take shape.
Drawing inspiration from this case and the profiling methods used is Lado Kvataniya’s The Execution, a sprawling thriller that may take elements from a real serial killer case but injects enough hardboiled crime drama and twists and turns to keep audiences thoroughly transfixed throughout the beefy runtime.
Nikoloz Tavadze plays Issa, a Senior Investigating Officer for the major crimes division of the Soviet Union’s prosecutor’s office. After a series of brutal killings, Issa is brought in to take over the cases, which ends up consuming him for over a decade…ten years of false leads, wrongful arrests and a continuously increasing body count.
Kvataniya weaves a tangled web of depravity and messy police work with a non-linear narrative that stylistically jumps back and forth between the early years of the case in the ’80s to the present day in 1991, when Issa captures who he believes is the real killer. Unfortunately, there’s not enough hard evidence to convict, so he’s out to get a confession by any means necessary.
Playing out like some of the best Asian crime thrillers (looking at you, Memories of Murder), The Execution is full of shocking moments, hard 180s, and surprising revelations. The non-linear timeline helps accentuate these moments, adding to the mystery in a compelling manner. It was a superb decision to structure the film in such a way.
Tavadze shines as Issa, a complex character filled with sadness and rage. He’s the stereotypical grizzled detective whose ego often gets the better of him, causing misjudgements and a tendency to jump to conclusions despite the evidence. He’s an inherently dislikable character in a film primarily dominated by unlikable people whose mental health has been decimated by trauma.
Working alongside Issa is Ivan (Evgeniy Tkachuk), another inspector who at first appears to be a bit more level headed but then goes slightly off the rails after being removed from the case. Ivan attempts to keep Issa reined in, but after getting the boot Issa begins commanding the investigation with a bloody iron fist.
Disturbing, bleak and extremely well shot, The Execution is an effective crime thriller that stays with you long after the credits roll.