{googleAds}The universe seems to have presented an excellent opportunity to a young American man, who has a thirst for knowledge, for cracking the numbers game, decoding Life itself. Except that the stakes are very high, and the count is done in human bodies. The young man is Martin (Elijah Wood), the setting is the wilds of Oxford, and the don who is supposed to help him walk the magic road of numbers is Professor Seldom (John Hurt).

The first murder occurs in the very house Martin is staying in and in a macabre way serves to bring Martin closer to Seldom, who had humiliated him in the first place and had refused to take him on as a student. Conveniently, the murder takes place before a disappointed Martin was preparing to go back to his native America, and just as Prof. Seldom arrived on a visit at the door of Martin's landlady, Mrs Eagleton (Anna Massey). Fate orchestrated them to meet at her door-step, immediately after the murder. What's more, they receive a hint that there would be more.

The game is on, to catch the killer before the body pile becomes a mountain. Of course, the police are all at sea, as Martin and Prof. Seldom speak in a code language that only mathematicians seem to understand.

But is life as simple or as well organized as mathematical formulas? Martin becomes entangled in more than just spaghetti with a local nurse, Lorna (Leonore Watling). The dead woman's daughter, Beth (Julie Cox), seems to have her own ideas, as to the missing ingredients in Martin's love life.

The fast-paced plot takes us hurtling through various scenarios and suppositions, with every major character joining the suspects line, while the spectators lean forward eagerly to decode the film, forgetting to dutifully munch on their popcorn and their drinks go warm.

Basing the film on Argentinean writer, Guillermo Martinez's book, The Oxford Murders, director, Alex de la Iglesia takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of the labyrinth of the university town, using the minds of Seldom and Martin as jumping pads. The plot twists and turns as much as the narrow streets of Oxford. The walls start to close in on Martin in the shape of the tight little University community. Can this modern Theseus get out of the labyrinth, without the proverbial ball of thread?

The film marks a new phase in the talented director's career, who encourages audiences as much to laugh with him, as at him. Some of his long camera pans with sudden turns to capture an interesting moment are a spoof on badly done thrillers. However, just like The Da Vinci Code or Zodiac, psychological thrillers are very difficult to adapt for the screen, as most of the action is cerebral. Nevertheless, di la Igelsia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría, have done quite a good job, as the script is very tight with never a dull moment. Flashes of humour keep the whole subject light, so that it doesn't sink under the weight of its own seriousness.

Mysterious codes, and deep philosophical questions are explored in the context of our modern, very mobile, everyday life. Actually shot in Oxford, the director succeeds in keeping the background realistic, and does not polish or plasticize it. This could be due to the fact that it is an independent film, funded mainly by European companies.

The only American, Elijah Wood, an internationally recognizable face, has once again chosen an indie film, with a meaningful story. He has tended to steer away from mindless romantic comedies and seems to have refused to capitalize on his good looks alone. He gives a convincing performance as the bright, young student, grappling with a lot of life issues at once. There is always a risk in playing this kind of character. Done in a sweeping, over the top manner, it becomes too loud and unconvincing. Too much understatement can make it sink. Elijah walks a fine line in keeping his performance realistic in a lively way, so as to keep audiences hooked.

John Hurt seems to be born to play the arrogant university don. His intelligence is surpassed only by his ego. He plays Seldom with a judicious mixture of outward confidence and hidden insecurities. Leonore Watling is well cast, as a bait to distract the attention of male audiences. Julie Cox plays her role very well as a bitter young woman. Anne Massey is singular in her performance, so much so, that one wishes to know more about Mrs Eagleton, her character.

The film is a case in point that it is not an inflated budget that makes for a high-quality film, but well cast, talented actors, pooled effectively by a creative director lead to good film-making. More audiences deserve to see the film.

Presentation at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF)
The film was well-received at BIFFF on the 28th of March 2008, with an excited crowd of young people, including Iglesia supporters, shouting at every opportunity. They soon quieted down, as the film drew them deeper in its twists and turns. Director Alex de la Iglesia s charm and irrepressible humour soon attracted a crowd during the Q&A, conducted in a mixture of English, French and Spanish. The beautiful young producer, Vérane Frédiani and the shy and heavily bespectacled Jorge Guerricaechevarría, as befitted the screen-writer were, present as well.