Director: The Mo Brothers
Writer: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Ersya Aurelia, Epy Kusnandar, Mei Kurokawa, Denden, Motoki Fukami, Tara Basro, Dimas Argobie
Running Time: 137 min.
Killers generated a great deal of buzz as soon as it was announced. Not only does the movie represent the first time the Indonesian and Japanese film industries have collaborated on a thriller, but movie also boasts a co-production credit from Gareth Evans, hot off the massive success of The Raid 2.
Furthering the connection between the two films, Killers borrows two supporting actors from that martial arts sequel – namely, Kazuki Kitamura and Oka Antara – who serve as headliners here. In the director’s seat are The Mo Brothers, two filmmakers who have generated buzz in their own right thanks to the horror film Macabre, as well as Timo Tjahjanto’s co-directing credit with Gareth Evans on V/H/S 2 – their segment literally being the only good sequence in an otherwise mediocre film. The final bait for Killers was its stylish teaser trailer that promised plenty of “the old ultra-violence.” Now the film has arrived in limited theatrical release and various On Demand platforms, thanks to North American distributor Well Go USA.
It’s not by happenstance that I quoted Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange earlier, as Killers has more in common with that feature than the Silat acrobatics of The Raid series. Although steeped in an often unsettling brutality, The Raid: Redemption and its sequel do, at the end of the day, offer audiences escapist entertainment. When Killers immediately opens with a scene of stomach-churning misogynistic violence, in which Kazuki Kitamura bashes a helpless woman over the head with a hammer, it’s clear that The Raid star Iko Uwais isn’t waiting around the corner to save the day. We’re in much more disturbing territory here.
Killers offers something of a dual narrative. While a handsome and well-dressed serial killer (Kitamura) stalks the streets of Tokyo in his fancy car, searching for his next victim a la Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, a disgraced journalist (Oka Antara) begins a slow descent into madness in Jakarta, Indonesia. What unites these two disparate murderers? The internet, of course! You see, Kitamura has a habit of filming his homicidal deeds and uploading them to the world wide web. Something of a closet fan of these videos, Antara follows suit and films his first kill after he’s pushed to the edge by two thugs. The fact that Antara’s birth into a killer occurs inside of a taxi cab isn’t his storyline’s only similarity to Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver; the frantic shootout that occurs inside the vehicle also brings to mind a similar scene in 2010’s I Saw the Devil.
As our two ‘protagonists’ begin to chat over the internet, Kitamura becomes something of a twisted mentor figure to Antara, pushing him along the path to kill – and kill – again. The effectiveness of these scenes is somewhat diminished by the fact that the two actors are forced to communicate in broken English, and that Antara typically acts like he has no idea what Kitamura is talking about, since his precarious mental state seems to suggest he’s not entirely in control of his actions.
While many reviews for Killers have argued that The Mo Brothers have a great deal to say about individuals’ disconnect from violence in the age of social media, as well as filmgoers’ relationship with onscreen depictions of violence, I wouldn’t recommend searching for profundity in Killers. It’s wild to think it’s been nearly 20 years since Funny Games, and while technology has certainly changed a great deal in the intervening years, I didn’t feel that Killers had anything new and more interesting to convey than Michael Haneke did in his memorable thriller. The Mo Brothers do share Haneke’s love of toying with the audience, however; a sequence in which two cops bicker in the foreground while Kitamura’s latest victim struggles to get their attention in the out-of-focus background is a particularly cruel joke.
Considering this is Merantau Films’ follow-up to The Raid 2 one would expect a high degree of polish as far as the production values are considered. And while the film is well-acted and stylishly photographed, the special effects and choreography leave something to be desired. No one would mistake Killers an action movie, but there is one sequence in which Antara has to evade over a dozen bodyguards in a narrow hotel corridor. I was utterly baffled when he somehow appears to crowd-surf over the lot of them, all without any of them managing to wrench his gun out of his hand. It’s moments like these that take the viewer out of the reality of the movie – and considering Killers’ weighty 134 minute runtime, these moments have the opportunity to add up.
Despite how much time we spend with our titular killers, The Mo Brothers never make the mistake of glamorizing them. It’s understood that these are two very sick individuals, and while Antara has our sympathy in the beginning, it quickly becomes apparent that he is losing his mind. Even when he does a good deed, such as when he inadvertently rescues a captive boy from a child predator, it feels like a ‘happy’ accident. This begs the question: do we really want to spend over two hours in the company of these two psychopaths? Killers invites you to wallow in the darkest corners of humanity; it’s a nihilistic work with nary a ray of hope. Some viewers may be drawn to the idea of a movie that makes Seven look like an episode of the Care Bears, but uneven pacing and the language barrier between the leads keep Killers from truly taking off – not to mention the sometimes substandard production values. Still, the film’s greatest sin may be that it fails to stand out in a crowded genre. There are simply too many quality entires in the Asian thriller genre to wholeheartedly recommend Killers, unless you absolutely have to see the latest release from Merantau Films.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 5.5/10