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.
Watch the trailer: