Killers (2015)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/10/14 22:49:01

"Serial, in parallel."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Advertising and crediting "Killers" as being directed by "The Mo Brothers" may do it a bit of a disservice in terms of drawing an audience, as it doesn't indicate that one of the Mos is Timo Tjahjanto, who in another collaboration (with Gareth Huw Evans) made the best part of "V/H/S/2". His work with Kimo Stamboel isn't bad either, with this one being a darn good thriller that does much better with a split story than is typical.

Half of the story is in Japan, where we're introduced to Yumi just long enough for her to make love, get chased, and be killed on camera, with masked Nomura Shuhei (Kazuki Kitamura) posting the results on-line. It's eventually seen in Indonesia by Bayu Aditya (Oka Antara), a journalist whose pursuit of criminal-turned-politician Dharma (Ray Sahetapy) was thwarted, reducing him to working as a cameraman and alienated from wife Dina (Luna Maya) and daughter Elly. When he has occasion to post his own video, Nomura contacts him, while being drawn to florist Hisae Kawanawa (Rin Takanashi) and her brother Soichi as something other than victims.

The split narrative works, in part, because the Mo Brothers and Tjahjanto's co-writer Takuji Ushiyama portray the urge and willingness to kill as a stain upon humanity that spreads and connects in every way possible. At times, the story seems like one of violent media begetting violence - would Bayu do what he does without Nomura's example? - but it's also a story of like being called to like, with Nomura being drawn to Bayu, Hisae, and Soichi in a different way than his victims in part because he sees potential in them. Bayu may think he is doing right, but he is contributing to a cycle that could consume more than himself.

Even with this bit of philosophy underneath, Killers is a slasher on the surface, and not only doesn't shrink from that, but racks up a few suitably gruesome kills along the way. The Mos don't spare the blood, but they're not one-trick ponies either. There are a number of impressive action bits, including an unusually good take on struggling for a gun inside a car. It builds to a thrilling, suspenseful climax, as you might expect, but along the way it keeps things interesting by keeping something in mind that a lot of these movies take for granted: There's no actual formal training for being a serial killer, so even someone as practiced as Nomura is going to stumble on occasion, creating moments of frustration that make their madness a little more human and the results a bit less certain.

It certainly helps Kazuki Kitamura out; fallibility keeps him from falling into the traps of the cool killer, the monster you can't believe nobody sees through, or the blandly average. Nomura is amusing and dangerous, but the most important thing Kitamura does is to capture Nomura's many nonstandard forms of attachment and make them believable. Oka Antara, on the other hand, projects uncertainty, finding the ability to kill empowering but needing encouragement and justification. Aditya's rage is believable, but so is his desire for a normal life, and how the former transforms the later. They're each buttressed by a good supporting cast, with Rin Takanashi giving layers to what could be a stereotypical sweet, unsuspecting girl whose new boyfriend is too good to be true while Mei Kurokawa is enjoyably pushy as her opposite, a brash streetwalker who figures to be Nomura's next victim. In Jakarta, Luna Maya is rock-solid as the wife who still has strong feelings but is smart enough to read the writing on the wall even without knowing about her husband's new activities, while Ray Sahetapy is enjoyably corrupt as Aditya's nemesis (and Epy Kusnandar ads an extra layer of oil as the intermediary initially between the two).

It's probably worth mentioning that, as is often the case in this sort of pan-Asian production, characters will wind up using English as a common language, and while it's not a huge handicap for Nomura and Bayu to communicate online that way, it's kind of a shame that it's necessary - these are the scenes where the main characters interact and the audience gets to compare them directly, and though they do quite well, there are moments when they do seem to be fighting the language.

It's worth it, though. There are a lot of matter/apprentice traps that "Killers" doesn't fall into, even bring keeping its individual stories interesting despite the Mos giving themselves twice as much chance to stumble.

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