When Paul’s chance of winning a national talent competition are ruined & his dreams of fame slashed, he plans a deathly revenge mission. 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders. Will the sparkly-suited Paul pull it off, stay one step ahead of the cops and find the fame he’s always longed for?

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunchbreak is a little like your mom’s best casserole, with bits of drama, thriller, British dark comedy, and gore layers baked in to satisfy any palate. Even if you don’t usually like casseroles, this one just makes you feel so good that you can’t stop eating it.

Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) is a forty-something everyman who lives with his elderly mother in an uninteresting English town. He has no friends and is constantly bullied, but believes he is meant to be a superstar. He spends his days working at a mall charity shop and posting videos of himself to Trendladder (like Tik-Tok, but live) for his one follower Clemmie (Katherine Parkinson), the mall’s janitor. His mum Julie (June Watson) has been sewing his sequined costumes (with a matching one for her), providing him with voice and dance lessons, and cutting the crust off his toast since childhood. TrendLadder is coming to town to hold auditions for their upcoming America’s Got Talent style competition, and Paul is determined to win. The first problem with this is that Paul is bad. While he and his mother believe he will be the next David Bowie, he lacks any talent whatsoever. The second problem is the date. Paul thinks he still has a week to prepare, but finds out while at work that the auditions are currently underway across town. He rushes home to pack his mum into her wheelchair and get into his costume. With his cell phone strapped to his chest to live broadcast his journey, the duo set out for the train station.

A series of maddening encounters with selfish, atrociously behaved citizens causes Paul and Julie to miss the auditions. They arrive at the auditorium to find superstar host Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) alone on stage taking a call, his sleazy behaviour just as bad as those they dealt with on their long journey there. When Tapp’s assistant spots Paul’s cell phone rig and realizes that he is broadcasting live, he convinces Tapp it would be best for appearances’ sake to allow the audition to proceed. Paul humiliates himself, of course, but this reinforces the audience’s growing sympathy for him before the titular lunchbreak happens. After one final blow, mild-mannered Paul is pushed over the edge and begins to plan his revenge.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Paul will get everything he wants in the end, but don’t assume the outcome of any of the following scenes because none of them are as predictable as the film’s pace to this point might indicate. Suddenly it’s an action-packed, gore-filled thriller that is equal parts grim and hilarious. The makeup and special effects teams deserve a shout-out here with explicit close-up shots of the gruesome details that were put into each death. The sudden switch from poor, delusional Paul to revenge-seeking Paul may have been a little unbelievable were it not for the fantastic performance by Meeten, who manages to maintain his character’s low-key/good guy vibe even while he stalks every clod that prevented him from getting to his audition on time.

This is only writer/director Nick Gillespie’s second feature film (co-written with Brooke Driver and Matthew White), yet he masterfully tells the unseemly story of an unsung hero: a middle-aged man who refuses to roll over under tedious bullying or lower himself to retaliation until his mother becomes the victim. Gillespie makes us look at how we judge others while trying desperately to find our own popularity, and just how damaging that game has become in the age of social media. Meeten makes us care whether he succeeds, ashamed if we were ever a bully, and empathetic if we’ve been treated as he is. By the time the blood starts pouring, we are all in, wanting revenge for him and for ourselves.

If I could change one thing about Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunchbreak, I would give Parkinson a bigger character. While the vastly different interactions Paul has with his coworkers are important to the story, Parkinson is an amazing comedic actor and could have been used more effectively. The supporting cast all excel in their roles, and Johnny Vegas’ as Rex the Tea Room owner is unforgettably hilarious. Remember, though, that this is British humour. It is quiet, subtle, and satirical. You must watch and listen closely to catch every line.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunchbreak is an excellent dark comedy that will leave you questioning your own social media addictions, and perhaps make you a better person for watching it.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunchbreak was viewed at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2021.

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