'Kill Your Friends'
‘Kill Your Friends’ has a decent enough premise that must have been fairly easy to pitch: “Imagine if American Psycho took place in the 1990s Britpop record industry.” The resulting film is exactly that – a tale of a soulless executive whose total contempt for the world and icky business ethics quickly turn bloody, backed by a delightful soundtrack of ’90s British hits instead of the ’80s playlist for ‘American Psycho’.
The trouble is that no one involved in the project had any ideas to bring beyond that premise. It’s exactly the movie you imagine based on the concept and a passing knowledge of ‘American Psycho’, which gets very tedious, very quickly. It’s one thing to base a project on the back of a previous success (see: Hollywood); it’s another thing to plagiarize in the name of homage. ‘Kill Your Friends’ comes too damn close to the latter to be worth anyone’s time.
Based on John Niven’s novel of the same name (he also penned the script), ‘Kill Your Friends’ stars Nicholas Hoult as Steven Stelfox, an A&R man at a fictitious ’90s British record label. He doesn’t really care about music, though, just about making money, gorging on excess, and succeeding through manipulation. The story opens with him snorting down mountains of cocaine alongside sweaty associate Roger (James Corden), who’s just about to become his boss. Rather quickly, Stelfox kills the hell out of Roger to avoid being left behind. That draws the attention of a detective (Edward Hogg), who also happens to be an aspiring musician willing to sacrifice the responsibilities of his day job to get someone to listen to his demo.
So, Stelfox lucks out there. Then he goes back to doing drugs and courting various painful parodies of ’90s music types. New competition appears when he gets new boss (Tom Riley), and murder naturally follows. Stelfox also has an opportunistic secretary (Georgia King) with a passion for finding new bands. Obviously in this world, that means she’s going to be another devious devil to toss on the pile.
It’s all very nihilistic and bleakly comedic in a very ’90s way that presumably was intended to play as a nostalgia act, but ends up feeling more hopelessly out of touch than anything else. There are few things I enjoy more than a dark comedy with laughs and genuine bite, but few things I enjoy less than a project that shoots for that tone and fails. ‘Kill Your Friends’ can be a particularly rough watch in that regard. It’s a collection of self-satisfied scenes too self-consciously dark for comfort and a parade of characters so despicable, there’s no chance of ever being shocked by their actions.
John Niven apparently worked in this world during this time, so perhaps there’s a certain level of authenticity in play. However, all the characters just sound like Brett Easton Ellis exaggerations. To be generous, one could suggest that Ellis caught the tenor of his times so well that Niven is just showing how those types stretched across the pond. That would likely be too generous, though. The more likely truth is that Niven merely read a lot of Ellis’ books and a haze of drugs and distant memories mixed fiction and reality in one big, dour knockoff.
That’s not to say that ‘Kill Your Friends’ is an utterly despicable movie without a scrap of entertainment value. Nicholas Hoult is quite charmingly devious in the lead role. The actor has a certain charm that got him into movie star territory, and the guy clearly delights in playing that strength with all sorts of evil thoughts flowing through his head. It’s a fun performance, and quite frankly the movie likely only exists because he signed on.
‘Black Mirror’ director Owen Harris has some talent behind the camera as well, creating a slick and steely world that would have been perfect for a better script. The soundtrack is also great, featuring all the big acts of the era in what would make one hell of a soundtrack album if those sold anymore. However, there are times (like a sequence set to Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) when the music is used to underscore the drama in a painfully literal sense that would almost be too much for a music video.
That’s the thing about ‘Kill Your Friends’: The movie has so many pleasingly familiar elements in the tone, cast, visuals and music that nostalgia will occasionally trick you into thinking there’s more to the movie beneath the pretty surfaces. However, a few minutes walking home from the theater should cast that magic spell away. This movie is as empty and meaningless as its psychotic lead.