Somewhere around the hour-and-ten minute mark of Killers, I recapped what had transpired and thought, “Sweet baby Jesus, what else could these maniac “Mo brothers” possibly bash me over the head with?” Violent murders, perverse lawyers, grotesque torture, acidic erasures – then I realized there was still over an hour of carnage left. Expecting more of the same serial-slashing antics, Killers happily breaks from more generic torture-porn mentalities and engages in thoughtful depictions of a “good versus evil” battle that demands blood be spilled on both fronts. All two-hours-and-seventeen minutes are utilized by the Mo brothers, with a little scripting help from Takuji Ushiyama, as their film explores the minds of mass-murderers from a visually relentless, competitive, and unsettling new light.
With life comes the inevitability of death, but there are unjust individuals who love to play God and end other people’s lives prematurely. Nomura Shuhei (Kazuki Kitamura) is such a monster, satiating his murderous hunger by killing innocent women on camera and then uploading his “artwork” to an online database for audiences to admire. Meanwhile, in Jakarta, an unlikely killer named Bayu (Oka Antara) gets a taste for blood after being forced into a case of self-defense, and he starts uploading his own kills – but only if the victims “deserve” it. Thus begins a back-and-forth exchange between the two, as Nomura becomes fascinated by Bayu’s motivations, convinced the two are bonded in death. With a “professional rivalry” so rich, how could these two NOT cross paths eventually – right?
Although I Saw The Devil shines a much brighter light on thematic revenge, Killers draws similar comparisons in delivery by slowly unraveling a sickening transformation from martyr into monster. Serial killings are treated almost as an infection or addiction, as Nomura talks about filling a tragic emptiness inside with the screams of bleeding, pleading young women, like each death comes with a euphoric high. Not only are both murderers’ methods contrasted, but the Mo brothers delve into the psyche and backstory of their “villains,” examining where each wayward soul first lusted after becoming a bringer of death. There’s an unequivocal horror to Nomura’s calculated, neatly orchestrated murders, just as there’s an inherent emotionality found every time Bayu assassinates another unsavory asshole.
Killers toys with the classic “good killing vs. bad killing” conundrum that so many movies have already explored, but the performances of Kazuki Kitamura and Oka Antara – two bloodthirsty maniacs who couldn’t be more diversely attributed – clash beautifully scene after scene. Kitamura’s character gets off on the artistry of each death, posting his videos online in a fit of masturbatory self-gratification, while Antara must portray a man who starts from humble beginnings, killing for good, yet Antara never synchronizes himself with Kitamura’s love of death.
Nomura repeatedly proclaims how he and Bayu aren’t so different, catching a murderous bug that can’t be shaken, yet Bayu’s tragic responses dictate otherwise while fighting to win his shattered family back amidst the killing of lying, disgusting individuals. It’s the Boondock-Saints-effect – can Bayu be regarded as a hero by killing only “evil” people, or is Nomura right in assuring Bayu that murder is murder no matter what? Kitamura and Antara are perfect foes caught hurdling towards one another in a chaotic, graphic display of violence, joining forces to highlight a vast spectrum of emotional tragedies that could lead any man down such a dark, twisted, and utterly transfixing path.
Fans of V/H/S 2‘s dynamite segment “Safe Haven” will see many familiar faces (Epy Kusnandar for one, who played “Father”), and Gareth Evans’ Executive Producer credit is a testament to the work both Mos have become known for, but don’t expect any influences from The Raid to sneak in. Killers plays for shrieks and sinister character development – not furious action – striving to showcase a wonderfully twisted comparison between artistic (almost theatrical) beauty and inexplicably violent outbursts (like Saw).
The Mos do so by establishing tones through meticulously selected musical accompaniments, which exposes personality before either actor has a chance to express feelings of enjoyment or uncertainty. Nomura’s scenes are typically carried out while soothing classical music plays, suggesting a calm, therapeutic demeanor is achieved by bashing a poor prostitute’s cranium with a hammer, while Bayu’s scenes offer a more chaotic and frantic vibe, asserting his inexperience and reluctant embracing of a killer’s mind. Killers boasts horrific depth and unnerving intensity on levels that gory effects (which there are plenty) and primal motives can’t achieve alone, transforming a criminal character study into a relentless cat-and-mouse chase loaded with intrigue, gripping tension, and morbid curiosity.
The Mo brothers only have one other feature to their name (the highly-recommended Macabre), but you’d never guess that given how Killers suggests years of experience between the two “bros.” In the vein of foreign mindf#cks like Oldboy, I Saw The Devil, and so many others, Killers ensures every step of this two-hour-journey keeps momentum moving forward, favoring a gruesome homage to legendary psychopaths immortalized by cinematic freakshows of yesteryear – but also a gritty, gore-drenched metamorphosis. Bayu and Nomura are polar opposite murderers, but their inevitable intertwining becomes a hypnotically addictive nightmare worth every bloody corpse, which makes Killers so much more than just another conventional case of “kill or be killed.”
Killers is born from the nightmares of evening news stories and the YouTube-obsessed generation we live in, dissecting the psyche of a murderer from a multitude of revealing angles.