Julian Hassole is a mean man. Egotistical. Uncaring. An all around prick with a fitting last name. He also happens to own a bank and if he was asked, all the employees that work within it. The setup for "A Lesson In Cruelty" from writer Gregory Wolk is easy to relate with. That bastard boss everyone loves to hate. Here however, that sentiment is taken to the extreme. Hassole is not just a mean person - but a despicable one. As the film starts off, it's made completely clear what kind of man Julian is. Someone to not feel sorry for and yet... someone is throwing him a birthday party. His first one ever! As the invitations are delivered throughout the first act, us viewers just "know" the big surprise will be exactly opposite what Hassole expects. The question then becomes one of damages. Just how much "revenge" will his employees exact on this cruel man? More importantly however, what exactly is the lesson here? "A Lesson In Cruelty" is a roller coaster of a film. Bouncing from comedy to outright... darkness... for lack of a better word. Officially, this is a "dark" comedy, but like Julian's character himself, there is no real middle ground. We jump from funny to downright creepy almost in an instant. This is a dangerous way to do a film. I am pleased to write however, that Alex Salazar, who directed, makes sure things continue to flow nicely. There really is a lesson here but also a question. With the way things play out by the end of the movie - who exactly is learning it?
Production-wise, "A Lesson In Cruelty" turned out being a lot better than I was expecting. There were times however, it felt like at least two different cameras were used to film, but that was "probably" just a color grade issue. I especially noticed it during the scenes in Hassole's office. The contrast was different, and I noticed a slight tinge of sickly green. Maybe this was intentional?
Other than that, everything felt quite a bit larger than it probably was. It's getting harder and harder to separate low budget indie from the larger studio counterparts. I even thought the pacing was damn near spot on. A big compliment - considering the ups and downs in tone that this film puts us through. Some excellent post work no doubt.
As for the story itself? Nothing overly ground breaking, yet unique enough to be interesting and funny when called for. The cast themselves, and there is a large troupe of actors, did fantastic jobs all around. Sure. Some of the scenes felt over the top... but that was the point. Everyone, including Mr. Hassole himself, played by Justin Lebrun by the way, held their own and did fantastic jobs. Out of context some of the performances were ridiculously crazy. When viewed during the film and "in" context - it all made perfect sense and was quite comedic... even downright scary at times. I especially loved the ending. To be blunt... it got "really - really" dark. Almost a "WTF" kind of dark. Then, in true form, "A Lesson In Cruelty" lightened up a bit as the happy Hassole family performed one last dance. Literally or figuratively you ask? You'll just have to wait and see.
When it's all said and done, "A Lesson In Cruelty" may not have been perfect. After the film ends, you may be left thinking there were a few interesting plot issues... but who really cares when you're having this much fun? When actually watching this film - it all feels right. Funny at times. Not so funny other times, but always entertaining. Truth be told? That's all that counts. Did I enjoy the film as I watched it all play out? Yes. Yes I did. This was a little over an hour of time well spent. A solid four stars.