by Kenny Hedges
American Killing is an oddly titled film, given that there’s nothing particularly American about it. Common-held belief would have it that U.S. culture is a wasteland, awash with exploitative violence and sex. But that’s old hat, and other cultures worldwide have proven their own predilection for similar tastes. Tell that to co-director and writer Matthew David Ward, who lifts his “social crtitique” of voyeurism and gratuitousness from films like Peeping Tom (a British work, no less) and the works of Brian De Palma – minus the sophistication, cleverness and, well, social critique.
With his sci-fi cartoon falling apart, producers impose creator/writer Jeb (Trevor Peterson) in a remote cabin with a group of fellow writers to hammer out 30 scripts in as many days. Unbeknownst to his roommates, however, the increasingly unstable Jeb has installed hidden cameras for his own, private reality show. Petty jealousies, the stress of creation and hidden addictions boil over into the titular killings.
Killing is a film that certainly believes in the auetuer theory, confusing creator and writer with director. The last act has Jeb strapped with a camera to his head a la Peeping Tom, but the comparison doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. The promising idea of murder via reality television is all but abandoned, and it’s been tackled in much better films previously.
It’s also fitting that the writers are working on science fiction, as that’s the best way to describe the chararization. They’re written much the way one imagines extraterrestials might try to approach a horror film, only bearing surface resemblance to humans. Worse, there isn’t a convincing second to make the audience believe these people are writers. They behave more like reality show archetypes. If that was the point, it’s lost as soon as the reality show angle is abandoned.
There are clearly interested ideas to be explored, here. And Ward and co-director Justin Ah Chong care capable of staging some nice tracking shots in the early scenes, but whatever they were trying to explore is either obvious or obscured by everything from weak characterization to even some dumbfounding anachronistic errors. It makes sense for a film called American Killing to discuss notable killer BTK, however when Jeb brings him up, he does so while anecdotally telling of working at a news station when the killer was sending his taunting letters to the press. Judging by Peterson’s age and given what we know of BTK, that would make Jeb at the very least a toddler who somehow landed a job at a news station.
But the BTK reference is the only American thing about a film that could have easily taken place in just about any modern civilization. Perhaps the other U.S. aspect is the fact that such a silly, grossly incompetent horror film could find financing, where other countries may balk at such a prospect. So…follow your dreams?
American Killing is on DVD and Digital August 6.
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