Sony // 2013 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 22nd, 2013
What wouldn't you do for your roommate?
In deciding to use a serious subject like domestic violence for a thriller, the writer and director must tread very carefully. Unlike the basic psycho with a knife that we often see, this is an issue that is very close to home for a lot of people and trivializing it can turn people off to the movie in a heartbeat. In general, because the priority of the genre is suspense and thrills, I feel like it's best to avoid the subject and make it about something else. That's not to say that sensitive issues can't or shouldn't be used, they just open up a lot of pitfalls without helping the story very much. Kill for Me comes very close to the line, but rights itself in time to keep from stepping over it.
A few months after the disappearance of Nathalie (Leah Gibson, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), her roommate, Amanda (Katie Cassidy, Taken), decides to finally get another roomie to help pay the rent. She settles on Hailey (Tracy Spiridakos), a seemingly nice freshman girl at the local college. They don't know it at the time, but both are involved in abusive relationships: Amanda with her ex-boyfriend, who won't go away, and Hailey with her drunken father (Donal Logue, Ghost Rider). When Hailey arrives home one afternoon to find Amanda's boyfriend terrorizing her, she strikes out, planting an axe in the back of his head. After they bury the body, Hailey reveals an ulterior motive: in repayment for her murder, Amanda must now do the same to her father.
This Canadian independent from director Michael Greenspan (Wrecked) travels much of the same ground as movies like Sleeping with the Enemy and Enough, but its focus on the relationship between the two women rather than the abused and abuser keeps it from going into the uncomfortable, exploitative territory that those older films did. Though there are some decidedly uncomfortable and unnecessary moments, that's a welcome change, but there are still plenty of problems with the story that keep it from being a very good thriller.
The big issue is the way that Amanda and Hailey each deal with their respective abuse. I know that fear of retribution can be a strong mitigating factor in reporting the violence, but when your boyfriend, who has a violent past and you suspect had a hand in your friend's disappearance, punches you and throws you airborne into the grill of your car all in front of a witness, I'd say you have a pretty good shot at winning a criminal case. Instead, she takes it and waits for it to happen again. Hailey's issue is more complicated, since she grew up around abuse, but the issues are largely the same.
Then, there's the little problem of how clearly telegraphed the resolution of the disappearance is. That's not the worst thing in the world, given how many thrillers suffer from this, but Greenspan tries to throw a wrench into that path. It's a terrible excuse for a twist that turns out to be no twist at all, as it reverts right back to what you previously expected to see.
Still, Kill for Me isn't all bad. The performances from the two young lead actresses are fairly believable and that of Donal Logue is quite good. As a trio, they really help support the problematic storyline, and Greenspan does show some skill as a director. There is a fair bit of suspense thrown around and some decent action without it ever getting overly violent. The good doesn't quite outweigh the bad most of the time, but it does keep the film from totally sinking.
Kill for Me arrives on DVD from Sony in a decent package. The 1.85:1 image transfer is a little soft at times, but the colors and black levels are mostly solid, the detail is fairly good, and there are no digital errors to speak of to detract from the experience. The sound is a little better, though not nearly as dynamic as it could be. The dialog is perfectly clear and the music comes through pretty well, but there's very little separation in the channels and next to nothing going on in the surround speakers. It does what it needs to do, but could be a whole lot better than it is. The only extra is a brief making-of featurette that doesn't amount to whole lot.
Kill for Me is nothing particularly special, but it's a serviceable little thriller that trades in some pretty rough material. While it uses domestic abuse as a plot tool rather than taking the issue seriously, it isn't overly violent or any more exploitative than the mainstream movies that have done the same thing. In the end, I can't really recommend it very highly, but I can't bring myself to hate the film, either.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R