The Tribe

The Tribe
The Tribe

Format: Cinema

Release date: 15 May 2015

DVD release date:
14 September 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Writer: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Cast: Yana Novikova, Grigoriy Fesenko, Rosa Babiy

Original title: Plemya

Ukraine 2014

130 mins

***** out of *****

One of the most appalling legacies of Russian colonisation/dictatorship of Ukraine has, in recent years, been the sexual exploitation of women (often children and teenagers). Add all the poverty and violence coursing through the nation’s soul, much of it attributable to Mother Russia’s tentacles of corruption, organized crime and twisted notions of law, order and government, and it’s not rocket science to realise how threatening the Russian regime is, not only to Ukraine, but the rest of Eastern Europe and possibly beyond. Being a Ukrainian-Canadian who has spent a lot of time in Ukraine, especially in the beleaguered Eastern regions, I’ve witnessed first-hand the horrible corruption and exploitation. (Ask me sometime about the Russian pimps who wait outside Ukrainian orphanages for days when teenage girls are released penniless into the world, only to be coerced into rust-bucket vans and dispatched to brothels.)

The Tribe is a homespun indigenous Ukrainian film that is a sad, shocking and undeniably harrowing dramatic reflection of Ukraine with the searing truthful lens of a stylistic documentary treatment (at times similar to that of Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl).

Focusing upon children, the most vulnerable victims of Russia’s aforementioned oppression, this is a film that you’ll simply never forget. Set in a special boarding school, it paints an evocative portrait of students living within a tribal societal structure (literally as per the title) where adult supervision is minimal at best and even culpable in the desecration of youth. Living in an insular world, carved out by years of developing survival skills in this institutional environment, the kids have a long-established criminal gang culture and they engage in all manner of nefarious activities including, but not limited to, thieving, black market racketeering and pimping.

Writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s mise en scène includes long, superbly composed shots and a stately, but never dull pace. This allows the film’s audience to contemplate – in tandem with the narrative’s forward movement – both the almost matter-of-fact horrors its young protagonists accept, live with and even excel at while also getting a profound sense of the ebbs and flows of life in this drab, dingy institutional setting. In a sense, the movie evokes life as it actually unfolds (or, at least, seems to).

The violence is often brutal and the film never shies away from explicit sexual frankness. We watch the beautiful teenage girls being pimped out at overnight truck stops, engaging in degrading acts of wham-bam without protection, perpetrated against their various orifices by truckers who shell out cash for the privilege. Even more harrowing is when we follow the literal results of this constant sexual activity and witness a protracted unsanitary and painful abortion.

While there are occasional moments of tenderness, especially in a romance that blossoms between one young boy and girl, there’s virtually no sense of hope that any of these children will ever escape the cycles of abuse, aberrant behaviour and debasement that rule their lives. The performances elicited by Slaboshpytskiy are so astonishing, you’re constantly in amazement over how naturalistic and reflective of life these young actors are, conveying no false notes with the kind of skill and honesty one expects from far more seasoned players.

The special circumstances these children are afflicted with also allows Slaboshpytskiy to bravely and brilliantly tell his story completely though the purest of cinematic approaches. Visuals and actions are what drive the film and ultimately prove to be far more powerful than words ever could be. Chances are very good that you’ll ultimately sit there, mouth agape as you realize that what you’re seeing on screen is unlike anything you have ever seen before. The Tribe evokes a world of silence and suffering that is also perversely borderline romantic, a world where connections and communication are key elements to add some variation to a youth culture that is as entrenched as it is ultimately constant and, frankly, inescapable.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

Crime Wave

Crime Wave
Crime Wave

Director: John Paizs

Writer: John Paizs

Cast: Eva Kovacs, John Paizs, Neil Lawrie, Darrell Baran

Canada 1985

80 mins

***** out of *****

Not including the spectacular 4K restoration by the TIFF Cinematheque unveiled at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen Crime Wave.

Has it been 40, 50, 60 times? Have I seen it 100 times, perhaps, even more? Whatever the final tally actually is, the fact remains that each and every time I see the film, I’m not only howling with laughter as hard as I did when I first saw it, but absolutely floored by how astoundingly brilliant and original it is.

This is a movie that has not dated and will probably never date.

It’s a film that has inspired filmmakers all over the world and not only is it the crown jewel in the ‘prairie post-modernist’ crown – coined and bestowed upon it by film critic Geoff Pevere – it’s paved the way for Guy Maddin, Bruce McDonald, Reg Harkema, Lynne Stopkewich, Don McKellar, Astron-6 and virtually any other Canadian filmmaker who went on to blow the world away with their unique, indigenous cinematic visions of a world that could only have been borne upon celluloid from a country as insanely staid and repressed as Canada.

Borrowing from his favourite childhood films – sleazy, garish crime pictures, Technicolor science fiction epics, film noir, weird-ass training/educational films, Roger Corman, Terence Fisher, Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar Brothers, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, Frank Tashlin, Douglas Sirk, John Ford (!!!) and yes, even National Film Board of Canada documentaries – John Paizs made one of the most sought after, coveted and beloved cult movies of the past 30 years. For everything it pays homage to, the picture is ultimately 110% ALL John Paizs. There’s nothing like it.

Taking on the lead role of Steven Penny, Paizs created a character who is hell-bent upon writing the greatest ‘colour crime movie’ of all time. He rooms in the attic above a garage owned by a family of psychotically normal Winnipeg suburbanites whose little girl Kim (Eva Kovacs) befriends the reclusive young man. Every morning, she rifles through the garbage where Penny has disposed of his writings and as she reads them, we get to see gloriously lurid snippets of celluloid from the fevered brain of this young writer.

These sequences are dappled with colours bordering on fluorescent and narrated with searing Walter Winchell-like stabs of verbal blade-thrusts.

Contrasting this, we also get Kim’s gentle, natural, non-colour-crime-movie narration. She innocently describes Penny not unlike serial killers upon whom have been bestowed, après-capture, fond reminiscences like: ‘Gee whiz, he was a really nice guy.’ Indeed, Steven Penny inhabits Kim’s words like a glove: ‘He was a quiet man,’ she says sweetly.

As Crime Wave progresses, Penny’s creative blockages become dire. As he locks himself up for weeks, his room, so foul and fetid, invites rats to scurry upon his immobile depression-infused carcass. Kim finds salvation in a back page ad of Penny’s Bible-like magazine Colour Crime Quarterly. It seems that one Dr Jolly (Neil Lawrie), a script doctor, exists in Sails, Kansas. Kim insists, that HE is what Steven needs. Dr Jolly provides comfort to burgeoning young screenwriters. What they really need is the one important thing he can provide:


Unbeknownst to anyone, Dr Jolly is a serial killer who lures young screenwriters into his den of depravity to sodomize and murder them. Dr Jolly’s goal is to truly show young men the meaning of the word:


As a filmmaker, Paizs eventually leads us on an even more insane journey than we’ve already been on board for, and during the dizzyingly final 20 minutes of the film, he delivers one of the most brilliant, hallucinogenic and piss-your-pants funny extended montages you’ll ever experience. John Paizs then teaches us the meaning of the word:


Twists indeed.

You’ll see nothing like them in any film. Crime Wave is one of the most ravishingly original films ever made. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

If you have seen it, see the picture again and again and again and yet again.

That’s why they call them cult films.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

The Editor

The Editor
The Editor

Directors: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy

Writers: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney

Cast: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Paz de le Huerta, Udo Kier, Laurence R. Harvey

Canada 2014

102 mins

***** out of *****

The Editor is not Italian, it is Canadian, the Empire’s Dominion of Official Multi-Culturalism. Better yet, it’s from Winnipeg and produced by the crazed post-modernist prairie collective Astron-6 (Manborg, Father’s Day). Here’s a film in which you’ll relive, beyond your wildest dreams, those works that scorched silver screens the world over during those lazy, hazy, summer days of giallo.

But, be prepared! The Editor is no mere copycat, homage and/or parody – well, it is all three, but more than that, directors Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy have done the impossible by creating a film that holds its own with the greatest gialli of all time. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, grotesquely gory and viciously violent. Though it draws inspiration from Argento, Fulci, Bava, et al, the movie is so original, you’ll be weeping buckets of joy because finally someone has managed to mix-master the giallo elements and serve up a delicious platter of post-modern pasta du cinema that harkens back to simpler, bloodier and nastier times in a contemporary package.

Bear witness to the following exchange:

BLONDE STUD: So where were you on the night of the murder?

BLONDE BABE: I was at home washing my hair and shaving my pussy.

This should be enough to rest my case, but read on.

The picture’s deceptively simple plot involves Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks, with the greatest Franco Nero moustache since Franco Nero), a once prominent film editor who accidentally chopped four fingers off and is now forced to cut with one hand. Working on a giallo, our title hero becomes the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders perpetrated upon the film’s cast wherein all the victims have had four of their fingers chopped off. To complicate matters, Rey has fallen head over heels for his beautiful, young assistant editor whilst locked into an unhappy marriage with a sexy, but spiteful has-been actress (Paz de le Huerta), a harping shrew openly cuckolding Rey. When she admits to having eyes for one of the lead actors in the film Rey is editing, our hero quips, ‘What would you do if he died?’ Wifey is outraged and responds:

‘I would cry. I would cry. I would cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry,’ and then adds, ‘I would cry. I would. I would never, ever, ever stop crying, you stupid cripple!’

Again, this should be enough to rest my case, but read on.

Detective Peter Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy, also sporting a Nero ‘stache) is hell-bent on finding the killer. He’s a lusty swordsman with a penchant for slapping his eager women on the face when they talk back. He dogs poor Rey at every step, which is not the ideal situation since he has to keep editing around all the actors who keep getting murdered. As bodies pile up, Porfiry slaps together a brilliant undercover idea and gets his junior detective (Brent Neale, star of Guy Maddin’s Careful) onto the film as the editor. Hapless Rey is replaced by an Italian version of The Beverly Hillbillies’ Jethro Beaudine. The producer tries to let Rey go graciously. ‘Honestly Ray,’ he says, ‘I thought it would be fun to have a cripple around, but I was dead wrong.’

The Editor has all the makings of a horror classic. The writing is delightfully mordant, the cinematography captures all the near-fluorescent colours of gialli, the special effects are outstanding (and wonderfully over-the-top), and the musical score is a marvel of aurally rapturous 70s/80s-styled sleaze. Amongst a great cast of astonishing thespians delivering spot-on work (including the gorgeous Tristan Risk from American Mary), Udo Kier pops in for a hilarious ‘howdy-doo’ as a demented psychiatrist.

The Editor is probably the coolest film you’ll see this year and one you’ll want to partake of again and again and yet again. Cult classics never die. They just get better and better.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

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It Follows

It Follows
It Follows

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 February 2015

Distributor: Icon Film Distribution

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Writer: David Robert Mitchell

Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi

USA 2014

97 mins

One of the highlights of the 20th Etrange Festival, which took place in Paris in September, was undoubtedly David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to his well-received debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover. Impressively controlled and intelligently written, It Follows revolves around a simple, strong and horribly effective concept, which is neatly stated in a title that is both disarmingly concrete and rich in ramifications.

Following a sexual encounter with a boy she likes during the summer, 19-year-old Jay starts having nightmarish visions of ominous ghostly figures who follow her relentlessly. Warned not to let them touch her, Jay is continually forced to run from the incomprehensible menace, invisible to everyone else, or attempt to pass on the haunting by sleeping with someone. With the help of her sister Kelly and their friends, Jay desperately tries to find a way of ridding herself of the ghoulish infection.

Deliberately paced, the film weaves an atmosphere of inescapable dread around the characters, making unnerving use of 360-degree pans that almost casually reveal the slowly but inexorably approaching threat, brilliantly complemented by the Carpenter-style soundtrack. The locations are perfectly chosen, from the eerily empty, impeccably groomed suburban streets, only briefly troubled by a flimsily dressed girl running in fear, to a gloomy Gothic swimming pool where the friends will try to eliminate Jay’s ghost.

Normally out of bounds to the teens, the derelict swimming pool on the other side of the tracks stands in contrast to the sanitised suburbia of their homes: it is there that they will face the hideous consequences of sex. Like the best horror films, It Follows does not explicitly spell anything out, but instead plunges its audience into the prevailing mood of its time, creating an atmosphere of terror where having sex is never any fun, reduced to a fearful act performed solely with the aim of getting rid of the ghostly affliction. That pervading, consuming anxiety is economically planted in our minds in the opening sequence, the only gory scene in this masterfully restrained film. That the house number of the unfortunate first victim should be 1492 makes it clear from the start, in a similarly understated manner, that this is a film about America.

The world of It Follows is exclusively peopled by teenagers: adults play no role in fighting the threat and the youthful gang are left to their own devices in trying to understand what is happening. This adds to the sense of claustrophobia and tension, but the sense of adult disengagement may well also be part of Mitchell’s quietly damning observations. An unsettling horror tale and a chilling appraisal of contemporary American mores, It Follows is an accomplished modern gem of fantastical cinema.

This review is part of our Etrange Festival 2014 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

A Jester’s Tale

A Jesters Tale
A Jester’s Tale

Format: DVD

Release date: 15 September 2014

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Karel Zeman

Writers: Pavel Jurácek, Radovan Krátký, Karel Zeman

Cast: Petr Kostka, Emília Vášáryová, Miroslav Holub

Original title: Bláznova kronika

Czechoslovakia 1964

81 mins

A Jester’s Tale (1964) is a delightful and entertaining period piece that combines live action and animated engravings in an original and ingenious way. A farmer named Petr is happily ploughing his field when a group of soldiers press gang him into joining the king’s army. Petr’s independent and ironic attitude makes him completely unsuited to army life. As the army marches into battle in the Thirty Years’ War, Petr stumbles over rocks and is distracted by forget-me-nots.

In a characteristically humorous turn of events, our hero manages to break his rifle stand, and is forced to shoot from ground level, which serendipitously saves him and an ageing fellow soldier from the firing line. Things begin to look up as the pair find themselves the only survivors of the battle, gaily make off with a carriage full of loot, and even pick up a pretty peasant along the way. But when the three friends are surrounded by enemy soldiers once more, they decide to impersonate the king, his steward and his jester…

Those who are already connoisseurs of the sly humour and sheer inventiveness of Czechoslovak New Wave cinema will not be disappointed with this 1964 instalment, directed by Karel Zeman. The political liberalisation that took place in 1960s Czechoslovakia meant that filmmakers were blessed with an enviable cross between relative artistic freedom and central planning’s guaranteed funding and facilities. Directors of the time were particularly keen to make films about everyday life, previously a tricky subject: Socialist Realism prescribed films that glorified a heroic past or looked forward to an ideal future when Communism’s contemporary difficulties would be ironed out.

Films by documentary-influenced directors like Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer turned their lens on a contemporary setting, but even historical films like A Jester’s Tale had something to say about everyday life. Petr is a perfect example of an individualist who does everything he can to avoid the honourable roles that society attempts to impose on him, because he sees the hollow reality behind the hype.

Zeman makes a mockery of war by representing it through animation. There is something innately irreverent about taking static book illustrations and bringing them to life, and all the more when animation allows unlikely events, like the rank and file soldiers getting their heads blown off in unison. It will remind many viewers of the Monty Python animations by Terry Gilliam, who cites Zeman as one of his influences, along with Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk. Zeman stands out for his ability to combine live action and animation in the same frame, to the magical point where it’s hard to tell where the drawings end and reality begins.

In his engaging liner notes, Ian Haydn Smith tantalises us with descriptions of Zeman’s early shorts, including a popular series of satirical puppet films and Inspiration, a lyrical animation of glass. At just 81 minutes’ running time, A Jester’s Tale leaves some spare space on a DVD, so any of these shorts would have been a welcome addition to this release.

The Second Run DVD is presented in a new anamorphic digital transfer and features a new essay on the film by writer and book editor Ian Haydn Smith.

Alison Frank

The Canal

The Canal
The Canal

Format: Cinema

Release date: 8 May 2015

DVD release date:
14 September 2015

Distributor: Kaleidoscope Entertainment

Director: Ivan Kavanagh

Writer: Ivan Kavanagh

Cast: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Steve Oram

Ireland 2014

92 mins

One of the highlights of Film4 FrightFest 2014, Ivan Kavanagh’s shadowy horror tale starts with film archivist David asking a group of school kids in a cinema if they would like to see ghosts before showing them a silent film from the turn of the 20th century: everyone they will see on screen is dead, he tells them. This is an ominous and apt introduction, not only to the ghost story that will follow, but to the film’s look backward at the disappearing forms of its own medium.

After five years of living in a beautiful old house by a canal with his wife Alice and young son, David begins to suspect that she is having an affair. At the same time, he finds footage at work of a 1902 crime scene and realises that the murder of a cheating wife and their children by her husband took place in their house. As his suspicions become stronger, he begins to have visions of the sinister murderer and increasingly loses his grip on reality.

What makes The Canal so captivating is less the familiar story than David’s intensifying nightmarish mindscape, constructed around the secret-filled canal, neon-lit public toilets, holes behind walls and underground tunnels, building a dark, oppressive atmosphere enhanced by strong colours and elusive shadows. His obsession with – and possible possession by – the sinister murderer of 1902 does not echo only his jealousy and fear: he is a prisoner of the past that his work represents, unable or unwilling to move on and live in the modern world to which his wife seems so well attuned.

Just like its protagonist, The Canal is haunted by the ghosts of its own history, by the eerie pulsing light of silver nitrate and the fleeting beauty of its luminous contrast, in thrall to its hypnotic power, as though it were impossible to ever equal it, but also attempting to preserve it, fighting a lost fight against the evolution of the medium, trying to keep what is dead alive. Interestingly, this simmering anxiety about the future of film was present in a number of other titles in the FrightFest programme. It may be telling that The Canal ends on a bleak, uncompromising note, with the characters condemned to remain trapped in an ever repeating cycle: it seems that for them as for cinema there is no escape from the past.

This review is part of our Film4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

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One of the lesser known film adaptations of Stanislaw Lem’s work is Hungarian director Pater Sparrow’s 1 (2009), based on Lem’s One Human Minute, a collection of three apocryphal essays with the title piece written in the form of a review of an imaginary book of statistical data, a numeric compilation of everything that happens to human life within any given 60-second period.

1 is currently only available on Spanish Region 2 DVD (in Hungarian with Spanish subtitles) from CineBinario Films but can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.

Comic Strip Review by Babak Ganjei
For more information on Babak Ganjei, please visit his website. His graphic novel adaptation of Patrick Swayze’s Road House can be found in all good comic shops.



Format: Cinema

Screening as part of Scalarama 2014

Screening Dates: 2 – 29 September 2014

Venue: Various

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: John Waters

Writer: John Waters

Cast: Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey

USA 1981

86 mins

Pity poor Francine Fishpaw, a would-be domestic goddess, finds herself surrounded by a wretched, ungrateful family determined to humiliate her and lay her low. Her mother is a spiteful shrew, her husband Elmer is a porno theatre-owning philanderer, son Dexter is a drug-addled wreck with an uncontrollable foot fixation that leads to his conviction as the notorious ‘Baltimore stomper’, and daughter Lulu has been made pregnant by a low-life delinquent and is enthusiastically pursuing an abortion. There seems to be no end to her misery (even a would-be picnic in the great outdoors is immediately plagued by ants and a determined skunk), but can the arrival in her life of mysterious, handsome Todd Tomorrow bring her the happiness she deserves?

Polyester is John Waters’s transition film, marking an evolution from the underground midnight movies (Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, Female Trouble) that made his name as the Pope of Trash, and before the surprising, genuine mainstream success of Hairspray. Released in 1981, Polyester was the first of his films to be shot on 35mm, to get a proper MPAA rating, to feature a name actor (well, Tab Hunter), and, unlike its predecessors, it has decent enough sound quality that you can hear all the dialogue – it even opens with an ambitious helicopter shot. This was the first Waters movie that regular cinema-going America had access to, and I for one would love to travel back and witness the reaction, because despite the technical developments, it’s still a weird, idiosyncratic ride.

Clearly a reaction to 1950s melodramas like Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows, Polyester isn’t so much a parody, it’s more of a Sirk film made in John Waters’s head, with all of his obsessions allowed free rein. While he has fun playing with that toy box, he is clearly incapable of delivering anything as conventional as a straight spoof. So Francine (Divine, of course) goes through hell, but we are denied the moment of empowerment that a Hollywood film would turn upon; she mainly just reacts, usually hysterically, to the barbs and cruelties that Waters throws her way. The twists and turns of her children’s lives happen outside of her control, and justice is delivered by blind fate alone. The drama doesn’t build or progress in any conventional way: stuff happens, then more stuff happens. Thankfully, it’s generally amusing and alarming stuff, and while the film is funny as hell, the humour doesn’t arise from jokes as such – it’s more that laughter is the only available response to this parade of appalling and inappropriate behaviour.

Waters’s ever quotable dialogue is played to the hilt by the usual stock company of enthusiastic amateurs and Baltimore characters, supplemented by seemingly random ‘names’ (Stiv Bators, lead singer of the Dead Boys, pops up, enjoyably, as Lulu’s no good squeeze Bobo, in much the same way as Iggy Pop would later do in Cry Baby). Tab Hunter throws himself into the proceedings with admirable zest, Mink Stole is back as the delightfully debauched Other Woman, Ken King and Mary Garlington are great value as Francine’s rotten kids, while Edith Massey, as Cuddles Kovinsky, manages to steal scenes while delivering her lines with all the slick assurance you would expect from a school nativity play or a Warhol production. All this happens against a backdrop assembled with obvious love and care, the attention to detail in costume and set dressing ensuring that the bad taste is exactly the right kind of bad. The soundtrack is, rather awesomely, a collaboration between Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Michael Kamen and, on one track, Bill Murray.

And, glory of glories, anybody attending the Scalarama festival screenings in September will be able to see the film as it was originally intended, in magnificent ‘Odorama’. Viewers in 1981 were presented at the box office with a printed card of 10 numbered circles, which, as ‘Dr Quackenshaw’ explains at the start of the film, are to be scratched and sniffed when the corresponding number shows up on the screen. This schtick was a loving tribute to cinematic showman William Castle (The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill), whose gimmicks ‘Percepto’, ‘Emergo’ and the like, made a lifelong fan of Waters as a child back in the 50s. Thus, as we view Polyester, we are assailed with various scents, starting with a rose, but including farts, airplane model glue, gasoline, pizza and dirty shoes, all integrated into the storyline, usually through scenes of Divine animatedly sniffing out another low. The amount of time, money and effort that must have gone into doing something so patently silly pays off big time, as every screening turns into a kind of lowbrow collaborative art project that is pretty much impossible not to enjoy, as we all arrive, sniffing our tears away, at scent number 10.

Polyester is definitely one of Waters’s best films, and I highly recommend attending an ‘Odorama’ screening for a unique night at the movies. Check out the full Scalarama line-up for other mind-bending celluloid offerings on the way.

Mark Stafford

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Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 1 September 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Directors: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto

Writers: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto

Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Ray Sahetapy, Luna Maya

Indonesia, Japan 2014

132 mins

A co-production between Indonesia and Japan, Killers, the sophomore feature from directing duo Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto – better known as the ‘Mo Brothers’ (although they’re not related) – seems like a conscious step up in artistic integrity after their ultra-bloody but otherwise unambitious debut horror, Macabre (2009). Working under the increasingly influential auspices of Gareth Evans – the Welsh-born director behind successful Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid (2011) and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal (2014), who serves here as executive producer – Killers is a grisly, multilingual serial killer-themed tale featuring two intertwining narratives set in different countries.

In Tokyo, Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura), a slick, emotionally aloof businessman haunted by traumatic childhood memories of his dead sister, lures women back to his secluded home where he videos their torture and murder before posting his efforts on the internet for all to see. In Jakarta, Bayu (Oka Antara), a disgraced journalist and viewer of Nomura’s videos, finds himself in a situation where he has to kill two men intent on robing, raping and possibly murdering him. Traumatised, he is compelled to document the aftermath and uploads the footage to the same website. Nomura sees the video and reaches out to Bayu, encouraging him to continue scratching this newfound itch for murder that Bayu insists he doesn’t have (or does he?). Meanwhile, Nomura undergoes his own crisis when he inadvertently befriends a potential victim, a meek flower shop owner (Rin Takanashi) saddled with her young mentally ill brother.

The film cleanly criss-crosses back and forth between the two protagonists as their respective storylines shift, develop and, occasionally, collide. It soon becomes apparent that Killers doesn’t intend to be a straightforward genre shocker, although the film’s pulse-pounding opening salvo, which sees a woman run for her life through the woods with a masked Nomura in pursuit, may lead you to think otherwise. This scene’s whomping stop-start sound design immediately announces that we are in jugular-grabbing horror territory. But what starts as horror melds into psychological thriller, which in turn segues into a revenge narrative, as Bayu sets his sights on taking down a corrupt public figure (Ray Sahetapy) who has caused him much personal strife. Bayu’s inner conflict both mirrors and is at odds with Nomura’s, whose interactions with Hisae the flower shop owner suggests that he might be losing his killer instinct. The Mo Brothers, along with screenwriter Takuji Ushiyama, are confident in heaping on dramatic complications that mould and re-mould the plot, giving the film some unexpected dimensionality and a welcome sense of not quite knowing how things are going to play out.

Visually, each strands adopts its own subtly differing traits: Nomura’s side of the story possesses a chilly baroque shimmer, whereas Bayu’s leans towards loose docudrama (the respective cityscapes that envelop them – the sterile glass and concrete facades of Tokyo and the more rundown and weathered Jakarta – emphasise this dichotomy). But what’s interesting is when the stylistic ephemera of one seem to seep into the other. Bayu’s butchering fantasy reveals glimpses of the violently artistic flourishes of Nomura’s killings, while Nomura’s lapses of control load stress on the pristine veneer that characterises his world. These are among many subtle decisions that lay the groundwork for the inevitable coming together of the two characters. Incidentally, the film’s weaker moments arguably lie when Nomura and Bayu are united – talking directly to one another over the internet using stilted English – and the film’s gripping denouement risks being undermined by some less-than-stellar slow motion and green screen effects.

Nevertheless, Killers is a suitably impressive work, refusing to simply tick the boxes of its genre in favour of aiming for something higher. The film hits hard when it needs to; its punchy sound design, use of music and explosive moments of violence give certain sequences the kind of intensity that many films of this ilk strive for but often can’t quite deliver. A genuine investment in the characters goes a long way in this regard, which the film takes the time and trouble to nurture. The result is a tense yet strangely intricate dramatic thriller that not only delivers on viscera but also ruminates on grander themes concerning the desire to kill, the need to document it, and our curiosity in, and perhaps even obsession with, the morbid. Part of Nomura’s motivation to kill stems from the views his videos receive, and the burgeoning popularity of Bayu’s videos creates further cause for insecurity. Although some of these ideas aren’t as fulsomely explored as some may like, the film never spoils the fun by lecturing self-referentially about the viewer’s foregone compliance over consuming violent media. With its commendable handling of style and substance, Killers confirms that the Mo Brothers are a filmmaking pair to watch.

Mark Player

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