Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 12th, 2013
Who's in control?
My expectations upon receiving Alyce Kills were quite low. It has the appearance of any number of independent horror movies that I watch week after week and director Jay Lee's only other major credit is the fun, but totally insubstantial and silly Zombie Strippers. It's not exactly a recipe for high hopes, but in this case, that became a benefit. Alyce Kills is a downright excellent bit of psychological horror with enough shock and violence to sate most any genre fan and enough skill both in front and behind the camera to make this horror fan take notice.
Alyce (Jade Dornfeld, Marcus) lives a withdrawn, mundane existence with little prospect for the future aside from depression and death. So, when her estranged best friend, Carroll (Tamara Feldman, Hatchet), calls wanting to go out on the town, she jumps at the chance. After a night of drinking, drugs, and Carroll breaking up with her boyfriend (James Duval, The Doom Generation), they find themselves up on Alyce's apartment roof. Soon, Carroll is up on the ledge and Alice drunkenly stumbles and accidentally (purposefully?) bumps into her, sending her careening to the street below. Upon the realization that she survived, though, Alyce's mind starts to crack and she descends into a spiral of self-destruction that quickly transforms into murder.
How much do we really control our lives? Sure, we can decide which operating system we want for our tablets; we get to choose our pizza toppings and the vegetables that go into our five dollar foot longs; we let our money do our talking for what movies we want to see. But is any of that really control. We still wake up at mandated times to go into a day of mind-numbing work, only to come home with a family pulling you this way and that, all based on a supposed dream of success and happiness that only a small fraction of us will receive. What kind of control is that?
Alyce Kills is a movie about control, or lack thereof, and a woman who, by means that nobody would condone, takes it back for herself after extraordinary circumstances irrevocably change her life. It's never clear whether she intentionally knocked her friend off the ledge and that question leaves the story with a welcome ambiguity that carries it through until the character completely cracks. Once she does, she becomes much more like the psychotic killer we're used to in the genre but, by then, there has been far too much character development for her to appear in any way generic.
Really, this is barely a horror movie. Maybe this sounds hyperbolic, but Alyce Kills more closely resembles the psychologically driven work of David Cronenberg than that of somebody like Wes Craven. That's some pretty high praise coming from this fan of that Canadian weirdo, but I was extremely impressed with Jay Lee's work here. It will qualify with horror fans because of its fairly graphic violence and solid special effect. The makeup on Carroll is especially strong; it's disgusting, but it's more saddening than anything else.
The body count and level of gore will satisfy the basest desires of horror fans, but there is more than enough intellectual weight in the story and enough quality talent in front of the camera to almost make you forget the mayhem that has occurred, at least until somebody gets hit with a baseball bat, that is. Jade Dornfeld plays a big part in that, effectively portraying the ridiculous ennui that the character feels as well as the sick power she starts to wield as she takes back control. The movie also features a couple of strong character performances, including from James Duval, whom I've never really cared for but who I didn't even recognize in the movie, and cinema's resident bum, Tracey Walter (City Slickers), who only has a couple of scenes, but is integral to the plot.
Truly, Alyce Kills is a surprise all around. Nobody would have expected the director of Zombie Strippers to come up with one of the best independent psychological horror films in years, but that's exactly what he did. Is it a perfect film? Maybe not, but I sure am having a hard time finding much fault with it. If I'm going to quibble, I guess it's a little bit of a slow start, but that's all in service of the character. For the diehard gorehounds out there, it might sound like a deal-breaker, but I assure all of those readers that, indeed, you will get your violence fix. On top of that, though, you'll also get some one of the best developed horror heroines in some time and a movie that will stick with you for much longer than almost any movie with an appropriate body count.
Vivendi Entertainment delivers a solid DVD release from Alyce Kills. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks strong, with good crisp detail and black levels that are nice and deep for a film of this kind of budget. The sound is a little better with, again for its budget, a fairly powerful surround mix. The dialog and music are always clear and there's absolutely no background noise, plus there is a good spectrum in the surround channels and low end.
Extras are fairly limited, but we get a couple. First, a relatively brief behind-the-scenes featurette gives us a look at the production without commentary, but there's not much to speak of here. The only other substantial supplement is a series of interviews with various members of the cast, though strangely not the star. They're pretty standard issue, but short and worth watching, I suppose. The film's trailer closes out the disc.
Alyce Kills isn't just passable genre fare; it's a genuinely excellent film, one that is far more thought-provoking than I would ever expect from an indie horror movie. There was clearly a lot of thought put into this story and it most certainly wasn't just some throwaway idea to get a movie out there. I'm very happy that, additionally, Jay Lee had the ability to pull it off from behind the camera and was able to collect the talent to do it in front. This is a movie I expect to revisit a number of times and I'm extremely glad to be aware of this top-notch piece of work.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site