Killer Instinct

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Killer Instinct
"This is a film whose acutely insensitive dialogue shows very little mercy toward any of its characters, but whose actors work hard to claw back a little sympathy amid the misunderstanding and petty cruelties."

Olive (Amanda Crew) is bored of her relationship and hates her job, but losing both within 24 hours is not something she was prepared for. When friends suggest that she get out of town for a bit in order to reconnect with the things that matter in life, she's cynical but decides it might not be such a bad idea after all. So she goes on the internet and finds a remote house where she'll be able to enjoy time to herself. The catch? It's owned by Harvey (Robert Patrick), an ailing baby boomer who, feeling his active life drawing to a close, wants to enjoy all the things he's never got round to - including murder.

In fact, it's quite possible that Harvey has killed before. This is one of several significant ambiguities in Richard Bates Jr's film, hinging on the antagonist's failing memory. What we do know is that Harvey has a longstanding hatred of millennials, ranting about them as if prepping for a Telegraph column, though he's perfectly polite to Olive when first they meet. It's going to take a while for him to feel ready to do what he wants to do. He needs to find ways of working up to it.

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Originally called Tone-Deaf, this is a film whose acutely insensitive dialogue shows very little mercy toward any of its characters, but whose actors work hard to claw back a little sympathy amid the misunderstanding and petty cruelties. Whilst Olive and Harvey each embody some of the worst characteristics associated with their generations, we also get to meet Olive's mother (Kim Delaney), whose bohemian lifestyle is every bit as stereotypical but complicates the picture, especially as she's the only person who actually seems to be having a good time. Bates Jr seems interested not only in the comedy potential of the culture clashes that ensue, but also in poking fun at the lazy way generational differences are mocked in other media. No matter how unpleasant, all this characters feel human on some level, their lives far messier than comedy (or horror of this type) usually allows for.

Fans of Patrick's genre work need not worry - they'll still get to see some of the cold blooded violence they've been hoping for, even if it's presented in a more befuddled way than usual. Awkwardly balanced throughout, the film is rather hit and miss - sometimes incisive, sometimes falling flat - but though it follows familiar character journeys, it has a personality that's all its own. It may not live up to the director's previous work (Excision set a high bar) but it's a bold stab at doing things differently.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2020
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Killer Instinct packshot
A woman goes to the countryside to spend a quiet weekend after losing her job and having her last complicated relationship implode. She rents a country house to an old-fashioned widower, who struggles to hide his psychopathic tendencies.

Director: Richard Bates Jr

Writer: Richard Bates Jr

Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Hayley Marie Norman, Johnny Pemberton, Nancy Linehan Charles

Year: 2019

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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