It's undeniable that today's societies while separated by borders that encompass mountain ranges, seas, and whole oceans are at the same time more connected than any other time in history. The concept of being able to familiarize ourselves by a simple click on a web page, camera phone, or FTP with the news and happenings of cultures thousands of miles removed from our own would go well over the heads of our older generations. In turn, the ease of obtaining information brings to light the declining standards for neighboring civilizations. Is our world currently more insane than in previous eras or does it just seem that way due to how prevalent international information is within the bounds of our current Internet? And more to the point, is the pointed voyeurism that has become a derived result of this connectivity gone lengths to numb us further to the pains and travesties visited upon people the world over?
Killers attempts to analogously address this question, and delivers one of the more chilling cinematic visions I've witnessed in some time as a result. Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto's newest film comes quick off the heels of their critically lauded Macabre, which I reviewed here last year. Macabre flamboyantly introduced the talented pair, who would soon go on to bring us their short segment for V/H/S/2, Safe Haven. That segment was a wild send up of found footage banality mixed with completely out there occult insanity. Easily the highlight to the continuing anthology series. While Killers is not graphically even close to the same level as their earlier experiments, it is a far more compelling study, and oddly enough even more unnerving.
The story of two men, one local to Tokyo and the other to Jakarta, begins by giving us a glimpse into the habits of Kazuki Kitamura's Nomura. An unhinged killer of women that airs his misdeeds on the Internet, raking up views and esteem in the underworld he inhabits. All while disguised as a well to do businessman with social savvy and stylistic flair. His work is noticed by Bayu in Jakarta, played by Oka Antara (who you'll recognize from the Indonesian epic the Raid 2), who initially is put into a state of curious revulsion to the deeds of Nomura.
Bayu himself is an ex-journalist working as a cameraman for hire for the local news. Disgraced during a quest to bring justice to some unspoken evils perpetrated by a local Jakarta politician and spin doctor, he quickly becomes ostracized not just from his professional field but from his family as well, alienating himself further from his own daughter due to erratic behavior and a tendency to break down. He becomes further drawn into Nomura's world with the latter man's continuing dedication to serial killing and brash disregard for human life. It's an incredibly interesting parallel, in part because the more off the rails Bayu becomes, the more Nomura attempts to reintegrate himself somewhat, looking to make a connection that goes beyond victim and killer.
As you might be able to guess, Bayu does end up completely off the chain, but it's no spoiler to say so. Inspired by Nomura, he becomes a sort of vigilante, airing the justice that he dispenses on the same website as Nomura, which in turn brings him into the view of the Japanese killer. Thus begins an incredibly disturbing tale of one-upmanship as the two vie to both better the other as well as transcend their own current stations. Bayu still clinging to the hope that he can reconcile with his estranged family and Nomura coming to grips with the man that he is minus any illusions.
The acting here is brilliant. Oka Antara is both quiet and thrilling in his portrayal of Bayu. Switching mood and tone on a dime at times, his face adept at conveying every emotion of Bayu's that we're intended to decipher. I was pretty transfixed by his desperation and fully empathized with his character even when he'd succumbed to his basest instincts. And given the deviance to which he submits, that's an impressive feat. Conversely, Kitamura's Nomura is a sly subvert who relishes his misconduct, delights in his sins, and relishes the pain he doles. His attempts at societal integration border on introspectively hilarious and depressingly futile. His role here as a true sociopath is one of the better of 2014.
I have to give nods to Gunnar Nimpuno's cinematography as well. He manages to capture each scene brilliantly, working within each frame and including impeccable detail, and utilizing as much natural light as the sets would allow. His colors wonderfully muted and subtle at times, but popping out at us at others. The contrast between scenes in Tokyo and Jakarta quite noteworthy as well, in an almost-homage to films like Soderbergh's Traffic where the color palette helps to establish tone and mood for both the scene as well as the viewer.
The Mo Brothers' direction here is also superb, proving both stylish and sophisticated. They have managed to coax the best from each actor and extra, location and setting. The tone of their film always uneasy, though often rife with black humor. They have tackled a topic that clearly means a lot to them as film makers, and conveying Takuji Ushiyama's original story here both eloquently and compellingly is quite a feat. As I said earlier, the film is clearly analogous, but it doesn't really go to lengths to answer any heavy set questions. It suggests a few, but also admits that they aren't any less disturbing than the questions. It's a compelling look at how we struggle to make real connections, and happily doesn't wrap up the process neatly in a bow. It captures the statement of "life is pain" (quoting the Princess Bride) better than many other films attempting the same dissertation, and I would rank this as high as a masterpiece such as Martyrs without hesitation. While a challenging film, it's definitely a triumph.