While the film’s tendency towards purposefully squirm inducing grotesquerie, transgression, and ultraviolence certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste (and is likely to outright offend some more sensitive viewers), the Indonesian thriller Killers still happens upon a lot of thoughtful characterization worth unpacking between the bursts of bloodletting. More of a twisted character piece than a standard thriller, this latest effort from The Mo Brothers – Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto – and some of the producers of The Raid (including director Gareth Evans) looks the relationship and differences between two men with homicidal tendencies.
In Jakarta, Bayu (Oka Antara) is a fledgling family man and disgraced journalist following an investigation into a wealthy, well connected, and crooked politician (memorably played by Raid villain Ray Sahetapy) turns against him. Following an attempted robbery and mugging in a taxi cab leads to Bayu turning the tables on his captors and killing them, he uploads the footage of his brush with death to a shadowy website specializing in murder videos. He catches the eye of Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura), a fresh faced, but dead eyed psychopath with eyes for a local florist (Rin Takanashi) and a penchant for killing prostitutes and eating some of their organs. Nomura convinces Bayu to use his newfound bloodlust for revenge against those who wronged him.
Bayu starts to get too much of a taste for violence while Nomura starts to slip in his ability to keep his crimes quiet. It’s these overlapping and conflicting arcs that help the film’s still a bit too long 137 minute running time move by at a remarkable clip. Stamboel and Tjahjanto make a quantum leap in storytelling acumen from their previous effort Macabre. The style is hyper-realistic and unnerving, but also quite restrained. Following a wrenching opening sequence involving Nomura and one of his victims that sets the tone for the film’s nastier bits, the story from Tjahjanto and co-writer Takuji Ushiyama settles into a nice groove. There’s never a moment when the filmmakers feel burdened by the length of the film and feel the need to cut back needlessly to a violent moment to goose the audience. Despite the location and character jumping structure that doesn’t really start to come together until the final third, each scene allows the characters to progress naturally. No one is ever in a hurry to get anywhere, but there’s always an overlying sense of urgency and force to even the film’s dialogue driven sequences.
Outside of a few great set pieces and memorable moments (a squeamish, methodical murder involving a baseball bat, a moment when Bayu has to make an almost impossible escape from a hotel swarming with personal security guards), the main allure of the film comes from two well pitched performances from Antara and Kiramura. Antara works to gain and maintain sympathy for Bayu despite his descent into psychopathic behaviour, while Kitamura wisely illustrates Nomura as a smooth talker that’s too far gone to save.
Some of the gorier bits can be a bit much, and there’s definitely a healthy bit of exploitation-style sleaze mixed into the production, but overall the film hints at enough higher aspirations that it never forces the viewer to wallow in the misery of it all. It certainly isn’t a feel good movie by any stretch, especially when it reaches its somewhat predictable, but earned conclusion. But as a whole, Killers works as a pulpy portrait of a pair of serial killers with suspect ideas of what makes their existences noble.
Killers plays at The Royal in Toronto for one screening only this evening before making its way to VOD this Friday.