Two years after murdering their parents, Odessa and Kyle James have escaped from prison and have taken a family hostage in a small, quiet and unsuspecting cul-de-sac. The Ryan family seems like your average middle class family - perfect hostages for two brutal killers. As the dark and stormy night passes on, it's slowly revealed that even the most normal of families can hide dark and terrifying secrets.
As a warning, this is a spoiler heavy review. If you haven't seen "Killers" and have an interest in it then I'd suggest avoiding this review. Just know I hated the movie, mostly for the writing.
I've see "Killers" pop up here and there, whether in discussion form or people begging distribution companies to release it. Suffice to say I never really bothered to watch it and that's mostly due to the fact that I'm really lazy. After talking with director Trevor Juenger about the movie, I finally decided to sit down and watch the director's cut. At most, I figured I was going to get an idealistic crime film about a couple of killers but I had absolutely no idea what I was actually going to get with "Killers".
"Killers" is about Odessa and Kyle James; young brothers who gunned down their parents on Christmas Eve and two years later, escape from prison. On the run, the James brothers take shelter in the home of the Ryan family. While holding the family hostage and play mind games with them, the brothers wax poetics about life, media and the American way. However, the Ryan family have dark secrets of their own and soon the tables are turned on the convicts.
For the first half of the movie, it plays out how you would imagine: Odessa and Kyle spend their time toying with their hostages while they spew out pseudo philosophies about everything from credit cards and banks to media and Nuclear families, much like the Ryans. This is actually my biggest issue with the movie, but I'll get to that later. However, the movie slowly reveals that there is more to this middle class family than one would expect and as the night slips on by, so does the illusion of normalcy that this family fronts. I certainly don't mean to spoil this movie but I don't see any way around it - It is revealed that the Ryans are serial killers themselves, even the prepubescent daughter. If that's not enough, not only are the family members killers who slaughter an entire SWAT team, but their home is part of a community that houses a dungeon below their street that's home to dozens and dozens of zombies. (I say zombies but it's not really clear as to what they are since they don't technically look like zombies. Ghouls perhaps?) Not only do Odessa and Kyle have to defend themselves from a family of killers (who also have a deformed cannibal child that lives in the walls of their home) but also a cul-de-sac filled with zombies.
If you're actually reading this and haven't seen the movie yet, then you probably think I'm bullshitting you. Truth is, I'm not. Even I couldn't believe the direction the movie took. Until the credits rolled, I sat and watched "Killers" unfold and tried to figure out if this movie was a serious endeavor or just an elaborate prank. If not, then why in the hell anybody would throw these kind of curve balls into a story? I'm still not entirely sure if I was suppose to take the movie seriously, but having seen some of the director's other movies, (particularly "The Convent") I figured it was suppose to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek flick. Even as schlock-entertainment, the whole suburban zombie community and the movie ending in a big shoot out of the James brothers against everybody else made the movie seem, well, stupid.
I could have accepted the silly and ridiculous ending for the most part - I wouldn't have liked it, but I could have accepted it. The movie had already lost me before that had happened because it features some truly horrible writing. Not sure what it was about the 90's that made filmmakers idolize serial killers so much, but the the first half of the movie we have to listen to the most inane dribble coming from the brothers. Often laughable, and in general, masturbatory, Dave Larsen and David Gunn chew the scenes while they spout off lines that sound like they were written by the bastard child of Quentin Tarantino and Chuck Palahniuk. It's suppose to be deep and insightful commentary on American society but comes off more as shallow and simple ideology that we've heard before from the likes of Mickey and Mallory Knox. I'm certainly no "Natural Born Killers" fanboy (I don't like that movie either) and am not indicating this is a "rip-off" or anything like that, but "Killers" features a similar mentality though.
These moments are made even worse by Dave Larsen who seems to be doing his best-worst impression of Marlon Brando. His acting in this movie is so hammy and over-the-top that I even found how he smoked cigarettes to be annoying. Seriously, if you have to put in that much of an effort into taking a simple drag off a cigarette, then you might want to consider giving them up. Dave certainly isn't the only one as David Gunn comes off as laughable in his tough guy persona as well as Chad Sommers portrayal of a stable-but-crazy father figure, who likes milk and cookies as much as slaughtering a police force. Then again, maybe it all just missed the mark for me and all the horrible performances and nonstop-schlock is what makes "Killers" the cult film that it is. Even so, I still find Dave Larsen's acting unacceptable because of how bad it is, especially when everyone woman (even female police officers) falls in love with him.
Still, with the bad acting, the god awful writing and ludicrous plot twists "Killers" has some decent directing behind it. For a first feature it was actually well done and doesn't come off nearly as amateurish as other first time features do. A majority of the movies problems come from other aspects, like the overly dramatic lighting. (Okay, the power is out and there is a nasty thunderstorm going on outside. So why is everyone backlit like they've got the goddamn sun behind them?) You can reach a point where stylization becomes too much and you start to cripple your own movie. Certainly Mike Mendez can pat himself on the back for doing much better than others and clearly I'm in the minority in thinking that "Killers" is awful. And I realize what a weird statement that is: It's a horrible movie but it's well directed. I even confuse myself with that contradiction, but I guess it boils down to the concept being bad from the start. Because while the movie is poor, it was handled by someone who had an idea of what they were doing. Consider it a case of the old saying, "You can't polish a turd." By that, I mean even a good director can make a bad movie when the concept is doomed for failure from the beginning.
I've taken into consideration that "Killers" may actually be a brilliant parody on films like "Natural Born Killers" or "Silence of the Lambs" but then I realize it's just too stupid to be that clever. I simply can't get behind this movie at all. I was optimistic and hopeful for the movie because of who recommended it to me. The dialogue and Larsen's performance is what makes this movie unbearable for me. Particularly the writing in general because it is such self-indulgent and laughable pseudo intellectual nonsense that gets taken to the point of annoying. And while I did find the whole serial killer family and zombie horde laughable as well. It seems like "Killers" was suppose to be another absurd horror-comedy from Mendez that ends in an over-the-top action cheese-fest. It could have worked if it didn't feel as out of place due to the serious tone the first act carries. I can't think of any redeeming qualities that would make "Killers" worth the time to watch, but again, the movie does have a bit of a following and I haven't seen too many people who share my sentiments.