Light on investigation, psychological interrogation, action, thrills, or even the serial-killing that gives it its modus operandi, The Mo Brothers’ 2014 Japanese-Indonesian collaboration Killers is something of a cinematic lemon. The Brothers’ (Timo Tjajhanto, also writing, and Kimo Stamboel) clunky creation introduces more ideas than it can handle, starting out like a greasy cousin to epic South Korean horror-thriller I Saw The Devil, but eventually settling into a lazy, bloated intertwining of Psycho and Death Wish with its story of a viral sensation thrill killer goading a rock-bottom journalist into acting on his murderous impulses.
Tjahjanto takes a crack at giving his murderous leads some depth, and with a two hour-plus run time you think he’d find a way to do it, but somehow he can’t hurdle the most basic explanation for their behavior possible: plain old male aggression. Slick Japanese businessman-murderer Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) suffers redundant flashbacks that hint at some none-too-filial issues with his dead sister, and rumpled Indonesian journalist Bayu (Oka Antara) is saddled with an estranged family and ruined career, but the details surrounding their mental predicaments are too many and too shallow. Nomura’s sadism is never fully linked to his past, and Bayu’s troubles stem from the fallout of an investigation into a generically evil politician.
The only depth comes from the conflict between the duo’s reasons for killing. One does it for pleasure, to assert power. The other does it to avenge, to thwart power. The Mo Brothers’ biggest mistake is not setting these two polar opposites on each other fast enough. Bayu isn’t a journalist for nothing, but for some reason the movie never decides to play cat-and-mouse, instead keeping them apart until very nearly the end, only giving them occasional private online chats that are nothing more than twisted pep talks from Nomura. Sure, Bayu may hold off since he’s already committed murder, but he’s clearly disgusted by Nomura, and no one else is on Nomura’s tail. The man’s videos are seen by millions, but nary a hint of a police investigation is made. If that doesn’t lessen the urgency, what else would?
The Mo Brothers worsen matters by overreacting to everything they see. Each time the tension ramps up, the camera starts shuddering like a wind-up chattering teeth that needs to take a piss. Most scenarios are milked for more tension than they even contain. The movie opens on a masked Nomura psychologically torturing his latest victim, only to finish by clobbering her with a hammer. Bayu’s first taste for violence occurs in the backseat of a car during the most bizarre, and bizarrely failed, robbery of all time (“This is Jakarta” functions as an excuse for the insanity). It’s almost impossible to tell how it happens or why. The implausibility extends to Nomura’s increasingly erratic behavior, like pushing his love interest’s autistic brother toward violence and shoving a woman into his trunk while a pair of policemen’s backs are turned. It’s supposed to be over the top, but the effort to make it so negates the thrill of seeing it unfold.
Full of promises of brutal violence, intricate psychological thrills, and smart commentary on media sensationalism and vigilantism, Killers’ intelligence shrinks with each stage of Bayu’s transformation into a howling wreck, which is to say very fast. It introduces itself with bravura, but quickly bungles its way into a failed exploration of all of the above, touching on each stolen topic in ways that make you wish you were watching a thriller that could navigate the psychological morass with more finesse.