With his aversion to telling a classic story, Wheatley makes sure to get as much mileage out of his characters as possible, as they’re tasked with balancing the mocking and gunfights that constitute the film’s atmosphere solely through their dynamic relationships. As 10 dealers and henchmen get involved in the exchange, the relationships a few of them shared before the deal quickly become overshadowed by a complex web of cheap rivalries and alliances that drive the shootout. With their back to back introductions and Wheatley’s clever use of the acoustics of the warehouse to constantly bleed their conversations into each other’s scenes, they’re able to carry the violence from its explosive start through its conclusion as one unit. Each of them are fairly one note by themselves, like Cillian Murphy’s “just here to make a deal, no funny business” Chris or Armie Hammer as the overly-chill moderator Ord, and only become interesting when paired alongside a group to banter with, but the explosive trickster Sharlto Copley creates in Vernon easily shines the brightest simply by being an exaggerated version of the classic dastardly cartoon villain whose eyes turn to huge dollar bill signs whenever a deal passes through their ears.
The greatest asset to Wheatley’s love of wit and gunfire, and the reason each shot and jeer fired in the battle is instantly gratifying, is the excellent sound design. The first time Chris tests out the merchandise is the moment the film sparks to life, as the butt of the rifle ramming against his shoulder sends vibrations through your seat while concrete explodes all around the theater. The kinetic energy of the shootouts all come from the ability of the audio to place you inside the chaos of the warehouse. This effect draws as much from the weapons locking, reloading and firing as from the characters’ voices, which are constantly building the warehouse around you. Two characters start a conversation at one end of the warehouse, and when we suddenly cut to another pair, we can hear the last pieces of their exchange bouncing off the walls in the distance. Then, there’s another voice shouting in the distance, and a moment later the camera’s right next to the yelling man. From the groups whispering their various plans behind each other’s backs at the start to Vernon yelling at every corner of the shootout, the film gleefully takes advantage of the opportunity for humor this layer of immersion adds. However, the film’s adherence to its immediate, wafer-thin pleasures means the precisely placed audio is only enhancing the “if you’re not shooting, you better be throwing a zinger” philosophy, rather than adding another element to a fully enjoyable package. Every aspect of the film is done in service of this idea, and while it makes for a laser focused blend of Wheatley’s favorites and a momentarily satisfying experience, it’s disappointing the best components weren’t given just a little more depth to work in.