Country: Indonesia / Japan
Production Companies: Guerilla Merah Films, Nikkatsu, XYZ Films (in association with)
Writers: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto
Directors: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Kazuki Kitamura – Nomura, Oka Antara – Bayu, Rin Takanashi – Hisae
Review by Alexandra Ferguson
There was a moment about half way through Killers where I thought to myself: ‘There’s so many horrific events taking place across the world right now, why am I watching a film like this?’
Then, as the credits started to roll, I thought: ‘That was good… That was SO good!’
Killers is the story of Nomura (Kitamura), a Japanese man who enjoys brutally murdering young women and posting his efforts on the internet. One man watching these efforts is Bayu (Antara), a failing journalist from Jakarta who, due to one life-changing taxi ride, soon joins Nomura in his favourite pastime, but with an entirely opposing agenda.
Killers is brought to you by the team behind Indonesian horror, Macabre (2009), which I enjoyed, especially as Indonesian cinema has very little history with the horror genre. Killers, rather than being straight up horror, dances between horror and thriller, and it’s a welcome dance to be part of. As well as horror influences from Macabre, you may also recognise both Kitamura and Antara from the gem of Indonesian cinema which is The Raid 2 (2014), and it is also from the same producer as The Raid (2011). The atmosphere of the film, as well as the action sequences, are clearly influenced by the Raid films, which can only be a good thing, and I can only hope these aesthetics and overall style become a calling card of Indonesian cinema as a whole.
So many things impressed me about Stamboel and Tjahjanto’s film (a.k.a. The Mo Brothers) film. It almost goes without saying that it’s shot beautifully, as you would expect of any Asian shock or action title. The script is well-written, though not as comedic as you might expect, and the soundtrack is complimentary without being memorable.
However, what impressed me most were the story and the performances.
Setting the film in both Tokyo and Jakarta was a genius idea. Nomura roams the organised streets of Tokyo in his expensive suit, hiding his sadistic tendencies in plain sight. Bayu is the perfect juxtaposition to Nomura’s slick serial killer, as the vigilante scrabbling between the lower and upper classes of Jakarta. There are some wonderful shots of both locations which work to make the characters appear worlds apart, whilst being totally authentic to their surroundings.
If you’ve watched a lot of similar titles to Killers, you often feel like you can gauge how things might turn out, or at least what might happen next. In the moment at which I was questioning my moral compass, the plot suddenly swept me away. It veered off into more classical horror territory, and then approached the ending with a fresh take, leaving me a little giddy.
It’s also at this half way(ish) point that Kitamura and Bayu really step up their performances. Kitamura in particular manages to visualise his murderous obsession and psychopathic state of mind with real flair. He fluctuates between many personalities on screen, as any good psychopath does, and is a joy to watch. Both actors are also given a lot to play with. The storyline isn’t just: Men kill people and put videos on the internet. The subplots are well-considered and give a deeper insight into each character, as well as developing the story so it isn’t just another paint-by-numbers horror movie. To be honest, this is often what makes Asian horror so much better than the Hollywood conveyer belt of rubbish.
What also sets Asian horror apart from Western horror is the ability to see a line of taste… and cross it. Killers does this well. It’s the addition of Bayu’s character and story which elevates the film out of torture-porn territory, as if it were focused on Nomura alone, it would just be another horror film about a guy who butchers women – and I am very much over that. Killers deals with much more than nasty-ways-to-kill-women, and though the film still comes with problematic moments, it continues to come back to the question of the two men, their state of mind, and their motives.
But just to reiterate – it’s goretastic.
Killers is a must-see if you’re a fan of films like Ichi the Killer (2001) or The Chaser (2008). However, don’t forget, Killers is proudly an Indonesian film, and I’m excited to say it is further evidence that Indonesian cinema has a style all its own.
(Also, don’t be surprised if you are left with a desperate need to watch The Raid or The Raid 2 immediately afterwards… I think that’s a totally normal response.)