Sundance 2014 Review: KILLERS Is A Brilliant Rumination On Our Violent Ways

Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
Sundance 2014 Review: KILLERS Is A Brilliant Rumination On Our Violent Ways
Killers, the latest from by Timothy Tjahjanto and Kimo Stomboel (aka, "The Mo Brothers"), is many things. It is a dark, stylish, somber, almost post-modern take on genre tropes. It is elegantly presented with impressive performances. It is a horrific film with few cheap thrills, toying with audience expectations throughout. In many ways it is a haunting, unsettling experience.

What it is not, however, is a Midnight Film.

Normally, this wouldn't matter much, but a film like Killers requires a far more "awake" audience to appreciate what it's doing, and slating it in along with more adrenaline-packed films does it an injustice.

The first twenty minutes of film develop at an almost glacial pace; a deliberate tease to the audience for what's to come. Slow camera movement and an almost sleepy mode of performance is interjected by moments of almost pornographic horror. These are the echoes of torture porn, the fascination with brutality in which similar films often traffic. 

We meet a gallant Japanese man who has a stark setup for the abuse and torture of his female victims. The twist on the twisted is that he uploads his snuff films for a global audience, catching the eyes of a family man in Indonesia. When events force him to act out in violent ways himself, the line between the fetishization of the image and compulsion to continue acting out in similar ways is increased.

At its best, this is a deep rumination on the global fascination with the brutal images that Killers provides. It takes the almost safe, charismatic tropes that Dexter or Silence of the Lambs employ and takes them to their extreme, often brutal conclusions. The film deftly toys with our expectations, adding layers upon layers to the masochist/sadist dynamic, until a conclusion that is sure to leave audiences discomforted.

This is a film about film, in many ways, part critique of these many tropes while at the same time providing more than enough tension to appease genre fans. Respite for some of the victims is dangled in a way that continuously teases the viewers; a "we know that you know" situation that expects a certain literacy in this space to really exploit its effectiveness.

It would be easy to dismiss Killers as too coy or too clever to the detriment of the film's entertainment. This misses the point entirely. This is a film that holds a blood-stained mirror up to its audience, showing them an exaggerated version of the ramifications of their own huger for brutality. We as an audience become culpable while we're being bludgeoned; a victim/victimizer dynamic as viewers that it shared by the characters in the film.

This Indonesian/Japanese dynamic, the collision of culture, and the elevation of genre film into philosophical rumination are all shared by another film in this year's Sundance festival. Like The Raid 2, fixating on the overt moments of action or violence at the expense of narrative depth would very much miss the point of these films. Killers is brutal for a reason. The repulsive behavior of its protagonists and the nihilistic conclusions it draws make the behaviors far less of a diversion into darkness and more a bludgeoning of our own expectations.

Killers is to the likes of Dexter what Starship Troopers is to Triumph of the Will, a sly and extremely erudite examination of the horrors of horror. It reminds of the likes of Kim-Ki Duk, a film that uses its brutality in interesting an exotic ways. It's a film that shoves its baseball bat down your throat, leaving you shaken and introspective afterwards.

This is most certainly not a film for everyone - some who adore the genre will find it pandering, others will never get past the first twenty minutes of unabashed misogynistic brutality. But for those willing to give it a shot, Killers just may be one of the most interesting, disturbing, and provocative takes on the world of the serial killer ever made.
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