What is the meaning of life young Stelfox? “To drive your enemies before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
It’s 1997, and Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road), is an A&R rep for a British record company. Eager to work his way up to Director of the A&R department, Steven engages in some questionable acts that he justifies using his life’s motto; which is a quote from the movie Conan the Barbarian. And that should tell a whole lot about who Steven Stelfox is, and to what depths he is willing to go in order to attain what he wants.
The closest I ever got to the music industry was playing in a rock band during my misspent youth. We achieved very little success, but even on that small level, there was a scratch and claw mentality that just wasn’t my cup of tea. Kill Your Friends is based on the novel of the same name by John Niven, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a dark, and maybe accurate look at the cutthroat world of music.
Kill Your Friends takes place in 1997, when the record companies still ruled the roost, and before the internet transformed the industry, giving bands an opportunity to market themselves and find an audience outside of the record business. Hoult is disconcertingly fantastic in the role of the eager Steven Stelfox, a man who works in a business that he appears to loathe. To Steven, it doesn’t matter what the act sounds like or looks like, the goal is to make a ton of money, then drop them like a hot potato once the well runs dry.
Niven’s script captures the darkness of the world of music, and director Owen Harris brings it to life on screen. Both show how record companies treat their acts as if they are simply a disposable commodity, to be used and discarded without thought, or sometimes without reason. Most of these characters are quite unlikeable, and it’s a fine balance to make a movie appealing with people you’d avoid like the plague in your own lives. But Kill Your Friends manages to draw you in even though you’d like to go the other way —preferably home to take a shower.
Niven had a short career as an A&R rep, and passed up a chance to sign Coldplay and Muse. Guess that kind of gaffe would make a guy want to write a story called Kill Your Friends. What his story shows however, is that the job of an A&R rep is all guess work —Coldplay could just as easily have been a bust. But in an industry as unforgiving as music, if you sign the wrong act, or neglect to sign an act that turns out to be a huge success, it can cost you your job at that label, or maybe in the business altogether.
This is a fast paced film that feels a bit like American Psycho at times. As in those moments when you aren’t sure if what Steven is doing is actually happening, or if it is all in the head of the character. Where American Psycho leaves it up to you to decide what real and what isn’t, Niven is much clearer with the character’s intent, as well as his actions. And because of that, I enjoyed it far more than the Bret Easton Ellis film.
There are some really wonderful performances in Kill Your Friends. James Corden is fantastic, and far different from the jovial host of The Late Late Show, as Roger Waters —No, not that Roger Waters. This one is a coke addled buffoon who doesn’t know Paul Weller the song writer from Peter Weller the actor. Georgia King (Duchess), portrays Stelfox’s secretary, who’s just as willing to cross boundaries to get to the top, as her boss is. Craig Roberts (22 Jump Street) plays Darren, Steven’s assistant. His eyes and ears are on the pulse of the latest music craze, even though Steven rarely takes his advice. Finally there’s Joseph Mawle (The Hallow) as James Trellick. Steven’s mentor, and the man partly responsible for the degenerate that Steven has become.
This is definitely not going to be everyone’s kind of movie, but it is intriguing, and gives an insight to what a functioning sociopath might look like, if he were in a business that seems to replicate sociopaths at breakneck speed.
Kill Your Friends (Blu-ray) is a clean 1.85(1080p) transfer, it doesn’t really feel like 1997, but that decade is far more generic in look and feel, then say the ‘70s or ‘80s. The DTS-HD Master Audio, is a bit of a mixed bag, the dialogue is so low at points, that when the music kicks in, watch the heart rate because it will go sky high. Extras include interviews with the cast, director Owen Harris, and writer John Niven.
The world of Kill Your Friends is dark, and the characters do some unspeakable things. You buy it though, because sometimes we are despicable creatures. Afterward you may want to build a moat around your house, replete with very large alligators. It’s the kind of film that might feed into the belief that human beings are irredeemable, and it’s just best to keep everyone at a distance. But it’s the world we live in, sometimes you just can’t avoid the darkness, and Kill Your Friends does a fantastic job of displaying that darker side, without dragging us too far into the muck.
Not Guilty, but you do feel a little dirtier after having experienced it.
Kill Your Friends (Blu-ray)
2016, Well Go USA, 103 minutes, NR (2015)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 (1080p) AUDIO: DTS-HD MA 5.1 (English) SUBTITLES: English SDH
EXTRAS: Interviews with the Cast and Crew, Trailers ACCOMPLICES: IMDB
Judge Alice Nelson does not condone killing your friends, unless of course it’s with kindness.