Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘KILLER’ is a fresh, fun horror from A.D. Smith.


KILLER (Dir. A.D. Smith, 90 min) 
After a pandemic strikes the nation, ten friends decide to quarantine under the same roof. Unfortunately, one of them is a killer.
2021, Horror, Theater/Virtual

Neon tubes give the room a slanted, eerie glow. 10 figures, all wearing hoodies and masks are seated in a circle. There are instructions on a whiteboard giving instructions for a game. The game is Killer, a party game, just like W88, where one player tries to stealthily eliminate their enemies without being discovered. Each round, the rest of the players vote to nominate their prime suspect. Only in this game, these 10 figures are tied to their chairs. And when they nominate a suspect each round, someone really dies.

A.D. Smith‘s new independent feature, Killer plays like a COVID-era, black-box theater mash-up of the “Big Chill” and “Saw” In the face of the pandemic, 10 friends have gathered in one house to quarantine together. As what was supposed to be a simple 2-week quarantine (I remember those days…) stretches on, tempers flare, friendships are tested, and relationships are revealed. Oh, and one of them is a serial killer. Finally, a film that asks the hard question: can you really trust the people in your pandemic pod?

The hook is irresistible, and the image of the killer’s surgical mask smeared with a bloody smile will stick with me for a few nights. Unfortunately, the overall plot can’t quite keep up. The narrative dances back and forth between quarantine flashbacks and the harsh reality facing the players trapped in the deadly game. I love a tight 90-minute feature, but this is one film where I wished we had a little bit more exposition.

The player introductions in particular are rushed  – you remember them more as archetypes than people. There’s Brandon, the host. Sam, the loveable idiot. Cindy, the girlfriend. Tiara, the troublemaker. Kelly, the sad girl who just lost her mother. Will, the standard asshole boyfriend, and so on.  I wish more time had been spent fleshing out these quarantine flashbacks, to complicate some of these initial presentations. This cast is diverse, fresh, and worth lingering on individually for a few more minutes. The film subverts some of these core character tropes by the end of the film, but others are dispatched so quickly you almost don’t realize they’re gone.

Despite these character flaws, the game sections of the film have a propulsive quality that just won’t be denied. I loved the retro video-game feel of the kill sequences, and the neon lighting scheme proves that sometimes the simplest choice is the scariest. Killer brings horror into the pandemic in a way that is fresh, fun, and leaves you asking some complicated questions. Don’t wait until the next pandemic to check it out.

Watch now online…

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