Indonesian/Japanese co-production Killers screened at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival in the Freak Me Out program, which is exactly the right place for it. Programmer Richard Kuipers said in his intro for the screening that their intention for Freak Me Out is to show films that sit at the extreme ends of genre cinema, from horror spectaculars heaving with gristle and gore to the weirder side of arthouse. He suggested that Killers could be a worthy entry on both fronts, and it’s a point well made: while the film certainly delivers the buckets of blood that much of the audience was there for, it’s also got some unexpected depth to it, though some of the thematic paths I was expecting it to go down were merely signposted.
Killers follows the stories of two men. Suave, calculating Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) is one, a successful businessman living in Tokyo. His immaculate suits and quietly confident demeanor belie his true nature, though: he’s a serial murderer, obsessively documenting his victims’ deaths and posting the edited footage anonymously on the Net. He’s amassed quite a following, and each video attracts a barrage of the sort of commentary that we know and love from Youtube.
One of the viewers — how he’s encountered Nomura’s “body of work” isn’t clear — is Bayu (Oka Antara), a young Indonesian journalist in Jakarta. Bayu’s pursuit of a corrupt local politician has ruined his life: he’s now working as a cameraman rather than writing his own stories, he’s separated from his wife and child, and his obsession with Nomura’s rampage starts to bleed insistently into his view of the world.
Killers is both slickly made and thoroughly in-your-face. The film flips back and forth between scenes of dramatic tension and jolting violence, contrasting confident, cracked Nomura with the downtrodden idealist Bayu. Nomura is familiar, an American Psycho transplanted into the Internet age, but Bayu’s character arc is unusual: he’s drawn into Nomura’s world with a kind of sick fascination born of his own lack of agency, perhaps seeing violence as a way to wind back the clock and take back his own life. When he does follow through, it becomes increasingly ambiguous as to whether he’s seeking vengeance, righting the world’s wrongs, or pursuing violence for its own sake, as Nomura does.
The film’s directors, the Mo Brothers (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahhanto, who previously made 2009’s Macabre) treat the character development with a fairly light touch — there’s no lengthy exposition, no knowing presentation of the rules for the audience — but it’s Bayu’s arc and, amusingly, Nomura’s nonviolent dramatic scenes that elevate the film above your average slasher rampage flick. There’s even room for a few very wrong, but very funny sequences, all drawing from Nomura’s attempts to relate to others or control his surroundings when things begin to go pear-shaped.
Killers isn’t for the faint of heart, though. It’s chock-full of hammers and tasers and duct tape. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.