Killers: Sundance Review

Sundance Film Festival
An efficient psychological horror-thriller hybrid, set in Tokyo and Jakarta, about two killers who connect online.

The bloody sophomore feature of the Indonesian Mo Brothers stars "The Raid 2" co-stars Kazuki Kitamura and Oka Antara.

A psychotic serial killer in Tokyo and a journalist-turned-vigilante in Jakarta both upload videos of their brutal and bloody acts online and subsequently connect in Killers, the skilled sophomore feature of the Indonesian Mo Brothers, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, and reportedly their last collaboration for the foreseeable future. 

Backed by a battery of producers that includes The Raid director Gareth Huw Evans and Sion Sono producer Yoshinori Chiba, this almost 140-minute film quickly insinuates itself into the increasingly deranged lives of its two violence-obsessed but otherwise quite dissimilar protagonists, with the Indonesian cameraman (Oka Antara, from The Raid 2) initially hesitant about his actions while his Japanese counterpart (Kazuki Kitamura, from Kill Bill and The Raid 2) is already a full-on psychopath complete with his own torture chamber, initially egging on his new colleague but then worried he might become a bigger star killer than he is. The characters’ online connection allows the filmmakers, who here move away from the slasher genre to something approaching psychological horror, to explore violence as a mindset.

This Sundance Midnight title should do extremely well at both regular and genre festivals, though its running time might make it difficult for the film to make much of a mark theatrically, though VOD sales should be healthy.

Nomura (Kitamura) is the personification of sleek modernity, though the girls he takes home to his austerely decorated, loft-style apartment never make it out alive (he’s essentially an American Psycho living in Tokyo). He takes special pride in his fully equipped basement, where the girls are literally tortured to death and he captures everything on video.

Nomura’s footage is carefully edited and then uploaded to a specialized website, where a disgraced cameraman and journalist in Jakarta, Bayu (Antara) watches the material, which, one night, inspires him to dole out some much-needed justice himself and catch everything on camera. His footage is then seen by Nomura, who manages to find Bayu online and convinces him that the second killing is always the hardest.

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Of course there’s plenty of (realistic) gore and torture here but what really fascinates is the cat-and-mouse game of sorts that develops between the two men, as their unusual online relationship, conducted in English, makes it possible for these two killers to externalize something of their attitudes toward their darkest secrets. The plot thickens considerably as the film winds its way toward a necessarily bloody yet also extremely well-plotted conclusion (the film was written by Tjahjanto in collaboration with producer Takuji Ushiyama), and along the way, even audiences might come to question whether perhaps there are good and bad uses of murder, especially after the separated Bayu’s young daughter (Ersya Aurelia) falls into the wrong hands. Remarkably, there’s not a single mention of religion, making the choice to kill or not to kill a purely moral and ethical one.

To offset all the bloodshed and drama, there’s some extremely dark humor, such as when Bayu visits his odious in-laws for dinner just after Nomura has tried to convince Bayu to look for a second victim, or in an almost farcically staged scene outside a Tokyo nightclub, where two cops in the foreground are oblivious to the fact that a prostitute (Mei Kurokawa) is trying to escape from the trunk of Nomura’s badly parked car in the background.

Though cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno’s camerawork has a tendency to get overly shaky when the excitement mounts, these moments are only brief. The rest of the film looks appropriately smooth, with the work of editor Arifin Marhan Japri especially noteworthy, as the film’s rhythms are expertly modulated across its two-hour-plus running time.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Production companies: Nikkatsu, Guerilla Merah
Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Mei Kurokawa
Directors: the Mo Brothers
Screenwriters: Timo Tjahjanto, Takuji Ushiyama
Producers: Yoshinori Chiba, Kimo Stamboel, Shinjiro Nishimura, Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto
Executive producers: Naoki Sato, Keizo Yuri, Akifumi Sugihara, Kenjiro Toba, Daniel Mananta, Damien Lim, Kerenina Sunny Halim, Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, Gareth Huw Evans, Andrew Suleiman, Stephen Odang, Berhard Subiakto, Aoura Lovenson Chandra, Damon Hakim
Director of photography: Gunnar Nimpuno
Production designers: Satoko Saito, Rico Marpaung
Editor: Arifin Marhan Japri
Sales: XYZ Films
No rating, 137 minutes