Killers is an Indo-Japanese collaboration directed by “The Mo Brothers” (Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel), whose previous work includes the Indonesian horror film, Macabre, and two shockingly bloody short segments featured in The ABC’s of Death (“L is for Libido”) and V/H/S 2 (“Safe Haven”). Work like theirs may very well only appeal to genre fans, but that’s okay, because as far as this genre goes, the Mo Brothers have yet to disappoint. Killers is their most recent attempt to explore the depth of violent thrillers, giving us two very different character viewpoints who find the potential killers inside themselves and bring them to light.
The story focuses around two main characters. Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) is a psychopathic killer located in Tokyo who targets innocent women and posts videos of his murders online. Bayu (Oka Antara) is a journalist in Jakarta who is deeply troubled due to his failing marriage and his unsuccessful attempt to expose a corrupt and domestically abusive politician. He has a strange fetish of watching Nomura’s murders online, and during a fateful incident one night in which a couple of thugs attempt to rob him at gunpoint, his fetish turns into the real thing when he turns the gun on them and films them as they die. After seeing the video, Nomura feels a kindred type of connection with Bayu, and through video chats, attempts to push him to his limits and embrace the killer inside him.
The good thing about Killers is that it’s not simply a slasher movie or a revenge thriller, although it has elements of both. At a 2 1/2 hour run time, it slowly develops and explores the psychological aspects of the lurking darkness within humans by creating characters who represent two sides of the same coin. They are both murderers, but Nomura kills for pleasure while Bayu dabbles in vigilantism, killing bad men who he thinks truly deserve it. At the same time, despite these despicable actions, they both show sides of their humanity that is not completely lost.
Nomura seems to always be desperately trying to connect with someone who can understand him. He comes across multiple women who remind him of his beloved dead sister, who he may or may not have had an unusual relationship with. Actually, his past and motivations are a little unclear, which is the only problem I had with the film. Nomura finds himself drawn to one particular woman, Hisae (Rin Takanashi), and not necessarily in a “I want to kill you” kind of way. He finds a likeness in her after he sees her do something pretty questionable one night. He also finds a connection in her younger autistic brother who greatly depends on his sister, reminding him of himself and his relationship with his own sister.
Nomura reaches out to Bayu after seeing his video of his very first murders and tries to get him to go further and kill the one person he really wants to kill. I’m uncertain why he feels this connection to Bayu, aside from the fact that they are now both murderers. But Bayu isn’t going around tying up innocent women and beating them to death, yet Nomura wants him to embrace whatever kind of murderous urges he feels. Maybe Nomura just wants someone to understand how it feels to have that kind of power over somebody, to feel some kind of justification or assurance for what he does, and I think he’s just desperately in need of a weird, murderous friend.
Bayu isn’t necessarily a bad guy, as the first time he kills is only in self defense. It’s obvious, though, that there’s a rage building up inside of him from the first moment you see him in a press audience looking at the wife of Dharma (Ray Sahetapy), the abusive politician, as she hides her bruised face under sunglasses, while Dharma’s lawyer (Epy Kusnandar) spews some laughable crap at the press. His fetish with watching Nomura’s videos probably plays into some kind of fantasy he has in wishing he had the guts to kill people who deserve it, and I don’t really think it has much to do with Bayu enjoying watching women get killed.
Bayu’s softer side comes out in scenes with his daughter and his estranged wife (Luna Maya), who he clearly still cares for, despite the lack of a reason for the separation. It’s pretty clear through some scenes in which he gets beat up by Dharma’s men for no reason, and when he has to listen to his father-in-law talk crap right to his face, that he puts up with a lot of shit, and does so quietly. It’s almost hard to blame him for the urge to go out and get vengeance against those who have wronged him and others. He has a conscience, though, and that is just one more thing that keeps him from being a truly deranged serial killer like Nomura.
Their differences are further shown in their style and the way they kill. Nomura is always a well-groomed, dressed to impress kind of guy and his murders are always finely planned aside from a few missteps, and he even has a designated room covered in plastic, with nice, clean murder tools. Bayu is a mess in every way. His home, his chaotic and not very well planned attempts to kill, he doesn’t even always change his shirt after getting blood on it. It just further shows the professional and amateur sides of the spectrum, and is also a symbol of their separate personalities.
Kazuki Kitamura and Oka Antara, who were both given small roles as the right hand men of opposite mob bosses in The Raid 2, have really shown what they can do here in leading roles and with a script that has enough substance to make you care about the two men. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. You care about Antara’s character, but you’re fascinated with Kitamura’s, or at least I was. Kitamura can pull off both psycho and vulnerable very convincingly, and Antara has an emotional range that can make you feel a lot of very different things at the same time.
The cinematography in this film is captivating, and the use of camera work really puts you right into the perspective of the main characters at times. The score works well here, ranging from soft classical to loud, making this a dynamically paced and stylish film amidst all the blood and violent imagery.
Killers can be a bit brutal and disturbing at times, so it’s definitely not for those who hate violent movies. If you’re a fan of violent thrillers and don’t mind reading subtitles (dialogue between Nomura and Bayu is in English, however), then I would definitely recommend this. The Mo Brothers, Timo Tjahjanto especially, are making names for themselves in Indonesian cinema and the violent movie genre. Their work is worth checking out, starting with this movie. It’s not martial arts, but it sure is bloody.