Review: Kill Your Friends
PLOT: In London circa 1997, an ambitious record company A&R man (Nicholas Hoult) will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even murder.
REVIEW: This drug-fueled tale of excess and music probably seemed a whole lot fresher when it premiered at TIFF back in the fall than it does now, in the wake of HBO’s Vinyl, which fills the quota for cocaine and rock music pretty much week-in, week-out. KILL YOUR FRIENDS, for all of its clever dialogue and skillful acting, never quite rises above the level of other middling attempts at UK-based debauchery, along the lines of the recent FILTH.
Even so, KILL YOUR FRIENDS does work on some level, mostly due to the highly intriguing late-nineties setting. For those unaware, the late nineties marked a resurgence in British pop music, symbolized by the “cool Britannia” wave which brought us bands like Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and the less esteemed but even more lucrative Spice Girls and All Saints. Based on John Niven’s roman-a-clef, a fictionalized account of his time working for record companies, KILL YOUR FRIENDS is a knowing if depressing look at the vacuousness of the business in that era. Little did anyone at the time know but the money train was about to grind to a halt, with Napster and P2P gutting the industry just a handful of years later.
Had KILL YOUR FRIENDS specifically been a satire or account of the era, it could have been a kind of 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE of the nineties, with the movie really at its best when it pokes fun at the biz. An early example highlights Hoult, as the coked-up Stelfox, as he tries to polish-up a horrible, foul-mouthed dance track, which is just awful but also not too different from some of the terrible dance tracks that ruled the charts in this pre-EDM era. There are also knowing jabs at The Spice Girls (with the film version’s satiric girl group never able to lay down a track while in the same room as each other) and some of the more transiently popular bands of the era (Pulp for one).
Too bad that for most of its running time KILL YOUR FRIEND eschews the business to focus on Hoult’s sociopath character, who’s introduced taking a dump on his passed-out colleague (a coked-up James Corden) while constantly inhaling line-after-line and plotting how to get ahead. It all winds-up feeling like an AMERICAN PSYCHO-clone, specially once Hoult’s character turns to murder while praising an obscure English band I wasn’t quite able to place. Not only are moments like this derivative, but they become even more so thanks to all too familiar musical choices, with the most chaotic scene scored to Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”, the famous video for which is more daring than anything in this film, and to boot, was used similarly in the now-obscure late nineties drama PERMANENT MIDNIGHT.
However, KILL YOUR FRIENDS still coasts by on nostalgia for the era, as well as Hoult’s skilled performance in the lead. One of the best young actors in the biz, it’s nice to see Hoult front and center even if the characater is thinly written, and he’s backed-up by a great supporting cast including Corden, SUBMARINE’s Craig Roberts, BATMAN V SUPERMAN’s Joseph Mawle, and DEADPOOL’s Ed Skrein. While the coke and rock thing is turning into a cliché and the film eventually devolves into a too familiar tale, KILL YOUR FRIENDS is still worth watching for the fact that despite it all the acting is solid and the pace is tight. Whatever it is, it’s never boring.