Thursday, 24 July 2014

Benny Loves Killing

Director: Ben Woodiwiss
Writer: Ben Woodiwiss
Producer: Nick Jones
Cast: Pauline Cousty, Canelle Hoppé, Kristina Dargelyte
Country: UK
Year: 2014
Reviewed from Cinema Zero

Benny Loves Killing doesn’t have much in common with Call Me a Psycho except this: both have a title which implies something very different to what we actually get, without disappointing.

This is the debut feature from Ben Woodiwiss, previously known to BHR fans for writing Simon Aitken’s vampire feature Blood + Roses (which I still haven’t seen). Somewhat bizarrely, he also worked for Uncle Lloyd on Citizen Toxie. That’s not the IMDB being crap again; there is only one film-maker called Ben Woodiwiss and he did work a Troma gig.

So although his previous pictures were a trilogy of short, artistic ‘film poems/essays’ about cinematic representations of women, nevertheless Woodiwiss is a horror fan and Benny Loves Killing, while certainly not a horror movie per se, is influenced enough by the genre to sit on the fringes of the British Horror Revival. At the very least, it’s about somebody making a horror film.

Pauline Cousty gives an absolutely stunning central performance as Benny, a young French woman studying for a qualification in film studies at some unspecified English institution. Complex and conflicted, Benny is not a likeable character. Moving from friend’s sofa to friend’s sofa, her homeless state is entirely of her own making. Partly because she could move in at any time with her mother (Canelle Hoppé: Sanitarium, Hellbreeder, London Voodoo), whom she visits on a fairly regular basis, but mostly because she blows most of her money on drugs.

Throughout the film, Benny snorts coke constantly, but not brazenly, frequently excusing herself to “go to the bathroom.” It’s a mechanical addiction and is partially funded by theft and burglary, from friends and from strangers. What concerns her college tutors however is that, despite being on a purely theoretical course, Benny is determined to submit her work in the form of a film, specifically a horror film. We do see a little of this being filmed, Benny assisted by actors and crew who either don’t know or don’t care about her personal life.

But this isn’t really a film about things happening, it’s a character study, an exploration of an individual with self-destructive tendencies and deep neuroses. Woodiwiss calls it a psychodrama and that seems a fair description. (NB. That does not mean this is a ‘psycho’ drama). We gradually find out more about Benny and her world. We don’t find out much about how she got to where she is (in any sense) and the supporting characters, mother aside, are tangential. But we do peel away layers and find out more about someone who fascinates us even as she repels us.

A lot of the film’s power lies in the artistic way it is shot. Swedish cinematographer Markus A Ljungberg (Voodoo Magic) uses lots of handheld, tight close-ups with shallow depth of field, with characters slipping into and out of focus. We spend a lot of our time right in Benny’s face, which is framed for much of the film by one or other of two wigs: a blonde bob and a dark bob. This is more than an affectation (though it is that as well); the wigs hide Benny’s hair which is never washed, her morning ablutions relying on wet-wipes as she rises from another night on a sofa.

This is a powerful, fascinating, poetic, perhaps even elegiac film, a long, long way from commercial cinema, yet also not falling prey to the clichés and overworked tropes of typical ‘indie’ film-making. And it absolutely stands or falls on the powerhouse central performance by Cousty, a trilingual, London-based French actress whose previous roles include Madame Acarti in what must have been a pretty individual production of Blithe Spirit! She and Hoppé act most of their joint scenes in subtitled French, which only adds to the sense of estrangement which we the audience feel from both tragic characters.

A remarkably international cast includes Lithuanian Kristina Dargelyte (Psychotic), Belgian Carla Espinoza, Italian Jean-Paul dal Monte and numerous others without CastingCallPro pages but whose names suggest a non-Anglo-Saxon heritage. Plus a few Britons including Trevor Nichols who was in Hot Fuzz. Most of the cast and crew have either no previous credits or only those of Woodiwiss’ earlier shorts.

Premiering in April 2012 in Norway, BLK played a number of festivals and was then made available online twice in 2014 for limited periods. First for two weeks in May as part of the American Online Film Awards, for which a paid pass was required but which nevertheless, by my house rules, qualifies as the commercial release date. And then two months later for ten days on the excellent Cinema Zero site, which included an optional director’s commentary track.

I really wish I could write more about Benny Loves Killing, which is clearly a very special film and certainly without any significant flaw, either technical or artistic. But it strikes me as more of a film to discuss, rather than to mull over on one’s own, which is perforce the reviewer’s lot. Perfect festival fair then. See it if you have the opportunity.

MJS rating: A

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much Mike! Yes, we wanted the film to start discussion, about itself, but also about other films too. We'll let you know when it's available again :)

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