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observation notes: Killers

This is where it all began: the very first Asylum production, in their very first year as a company, 1997 - Killers, directed by David Michael Latt and starring Kim Little.

The plot is simple enough: a handful of low-grade, thrill-junkie and just-junkie bikers make a shady deal to buy a bunch of drugs at 1/10th their street value. How come the good deal? Because the drugs are stolen, of course, from the notoriously violent son of a local drug baron. But our junkies don't know this, and to make matters worse, they agree for the deal to go down at this out-of-the-way, practically-condemned, nice and deserted industrial complex.

Junkies. Always doing stupid shit.

Anywho, the deal goes down as planned, but just as it does, the violent son tracks down the thieving dealer, bringing in tow with him a team of severe-looking henchmen, lead by a ponytailed and very angry Paul Logan. This is when the shit begins to hit the fan. The dealer, amusingly named "Speed" - you know, like the stuff he deals - is the first one captured and tortured, but when it's revealed he doesn't have the drugs, our villains are clued in to the fact that he's not the only one in the building, and go looking for some blood.

As the junkies scatter and try to stay alive, the film's focus falls on the character played by Kim Little, the girlfriend of the head junkie, a pretty, white, rich girl looking for more thrills than just drugs, slumming-it to satiate some no-doubt deep-seeded daddy issues, basically your good-girl-gone-bad scenario, turned thoroughly-fucked by the interjection of murderous henchmen. When PL shoots her man point plank in the head (not a spoiler as much as a necessary plot reveal. the spoiler'll see), Kim's character sobers up (somewhat) and realizes that in order to survive this surreal ordeal, she must transform herself body and spirit into that which she fears the most: a ruthless, remorseless, cold killer.

From here it's just a matter of who gets killed in what order, and who's on what side and where the line between those sides is drawn, as well as the lines within the characters between life and death and what each will do for either.

Overall, I found Killers to be entertaining, suspenseful and unpredictably complex for such a simple, subtle, sometimes underwritten scenario. But whatever problems the script has - and there are problems, mostly cliches - this is balanced by tight and intentionally-disorienting direction that really throws the viewer into the mix and helps create a thrilling empathy with our hapless characters. The inventive, always evolving lighting scheme goes a long way towards establishing a foreboding, seemingly boundless atmosphere, as though this building were the only one in the world, and there is no true escape; shots framed through fencing, grates and around pipes and posts add to this sense of claustrophobia. And whereas the supporting actors might have been a little one-note, and trying a bit too hard, the leads turn in nice and developed portrayals that reach beyond the screen and worm their way into your imagination.

Kim Little as the heroine (insert drug joke here) is perfect as the rambunctiously naive poster-girl for lost innocence forced to shed her doped-up and blissfully-ignorant perspective because of, you know, all the killing. If I had one criticism, I'd say she's almost too presentable for the role, almost too good-seeming to have fallen so far, but Ms. Little balances this with an impassioned performance that transcends appearances and gets to what it's truly like for characters of this sort when the veneer of thrill is dropped and one is left facing only survival. I've always been a proponent of Ms. Little's, but this is the most emotive I've seen her, as a woman driven to the edge of sanity and left there to teeter over the abyss. And she kinda resembles a cuter Bridget Fonda, also a plus.

Resident badass Paul Logan is extra badass in this one, the first time I've seen him play the villain (Terminators and Way of the Vampire notes yet to be written), and man is he good at it, incredibly menacing with those thin eyes and permanently-snarling upper lip, the kind of bad guy that makes you piss yourself a little. PL plays it cold, calculating, cruel and efficient. The hair's a nightmare, but hey, it was 1997; in 1997 I had hair down to my shoulders, a patch-plagued hobo-beard and Buddy Holly glasses, so who am I to judge? Bottom line: PL's awesome streak is totally alive.

Other notables include Christopher Maleki as the biker-junkie leader/Kim's love interest (giving a basically competent and emotional performance, though a few shades shy of the asshole he needs to be), Erica Ortega as the other spazzing-out biker bitch, Frankie Ray as the aforementioned Speed and Scott Carson (Scarecrow Slayer, Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill) as the pretty-boy drug-baron offspring. 
Killers was followed in 2002 with a sequel, appropriately titled Killers 2, with the subtitle The Beast. More on that to come.

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