It’s safe to say that Mike Mendez is not a household name when it comes to directors. Despite having had two films included in the Sundance Festival, 2000’s The Convent and this review’s 1996 Killers, he has significantly more credits as an editor for TV and documentaries. The only two films you are likely to have heard of by him are 2013’s Big Ass Spider!, because of that name, and 2016’s The Last Heist, because Henry Rollins is the bad guy in it. Killers, his first movie as director and writer, probably demonstrates both why he isn’t that well known and also why people keep on letting him make films.
The opening is a broodingly-shot and highly-stylised mix of the news segments from Natural Born Killers and the set lighting of Blade Runner. The Ryans are an All-American Family, discussing the escape of notorious killers Odessa and Kyle from the local death row, and there is a storm brewing outside. Inevitably, The Odessa’s turn up to the Ryan’s doorstop and begin a night of long monologues and cruel tortures, mostly focused on the caricatural good nature of the dad, Stephen.
It’s dark, it’s brooding, it thinks it has a lot to say about the nature of man and of evil, and you know exactly where everything is going as the police start to close in on the house. Except that you are totally wrong, and everything just goes bug nuts crazy with no warning. All the expectations, and possible disappointments, you had built up melt away, as someone flips the switch marked “What if an attempt at a David Lynch film, a Nine Inch Nails video and with a total understanding and mastery of their technical limitations?”.
I’m not going to try and describe what happens next, partly because it would spoil the surprise and partly because there is just so much crammed in after the whistle goes, that this would end up being a nonsensical list of disjointed ideas. Not that it doesn’t work on the screen (everything is very well paced and clearly presented) but because it is designed to keep the viewer off-balance and engaged with what’s going on. Roles flip, situations fly out of control, simple lines throw everything you’ve seen into a new light, time and space and setting both get put through the wringer, and you will try to keep up to stay only two steps behind what’s going on.
To give a measure of what goes on; this was viewed at one of the Trash or Treasure watch parties. We are all constantly typing quips, observations, and lines from the film on the chat when watching films together. This had us silent for 10 minutes straight, with long patches of no comment throughout the whole run. Most of the actual conversation was confirming what we had just seen, or checking the Discord wasn’t down. It was that intense.
Obviously though, something like that isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. It’s pretty much an arthouse movie, which means you may find it pretentious bollocks and incomprehensible drivel if it doesn’t strike a chord with you. Even if you do connect with it, you may get to the end and not be happy, as it’s just as much a fairground ride as a story so you could be left with a sense of it being a bit hollow. But I’m fairly sure the film won’t be offended by that, as it’s quite happily trying to evoke reactions from the viewer as hard and fast as it can.
The acting could also be a problem for some, especially at the beginning, as there is a specific atmosphere and emotion trying to be evoked so some of the performances could come off as wooden and weak. Personally, I don’t think any involved did bad work, even if it’s a pretty obscure cast, and everyone has a scene in which they truly shine. They have just been given very clear roles, many of them requiring them to give off unnatural performances, and rolled along with what the film needed.
For those who it does gel with, or for people who just want an experience that leaves you asking “what the fuck!” very loudly at the finish, then it’s a treat. You will get thrown around, you will be lost, you will have lines make you laugh and feel terrible for doing so, and you will know you watched something truly unique and, on its own terms, impressive. It has wild ideas, wry observations, and a gleeful approach to violence that is part social critique and Loony Toons. It also has a massive rewatch factor to it, partly due to its breakneck speed and excess of plot-points. It’s a Treasure in the canon of strange films, a truly psychotronic experience that very loudly says its piece whilst trying it’s hardest to entertain you. As far as old fashioned, family Christmas based entertainment goes; what more could you ask for?