Written and Directed by József Gallai
Starring: Baláza Szitás, Tímea Virga, Tamás Szilágyi, Olivia Barta
Indie Film Review by George Nash
A devilishly uncompromising take on a previously generic and repetitive sub-genre, seasoned with pinches of darkly humorous satire, József Gallai’s A Guidebook to Killing Your Ex is also a guidebook to how the found-footage horror film should be done.
Following a 3-day video diary of a lonely, heartbroken Hungarian man (Baláza Szitás), we quickly learn that this isn’t going to be your average make-up tutorial or home-video prank reel when it becomes clear that the purpose for such entries is to educate the watching world on how to successfully plan and carry out the murder of your ex-girlfriend and her new lover. His seemingly hollow threats and comical stalking attempts, however, soon manifest as something much darker and more sinister.
When the words ‘Footage held and archived by the police’ – the equivalent of Blair Witch’s opening true story spiel – appear across the black screen to commence Gallai’s feature indie film, you could probably cut the trepidation with a knife. How many times have we been sneakily coerced into sitting through re-runs of Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s 1999 shoe-string budget classic under a certain Paranormal Activity guise? Well, for József Gallai, it was one too many. Ingeniously twisting our expectations, this is one found-footage film that says “no, don’t find me, I’ll find you.”.
This is because this is a film that firmly establishes itself very early on as one made with the viewer as a priority. Our protagonist lets us in on his murderous intentions almost instantly, and has no qualms in expressing his unfaltering desire for what he sees as justice of the most bloody and unforgiving kind. Crucially though, as the very title would suggest, our protagonist places very little emphasis on the act itself, but far more chillingly spends the most part meticulously mapping every stage and process with such frightening dedication and detail.
Szitás is our tutor from the outset. From the entrance of an abandoned sewer pipe or a flat balcony, lectures on how to obtain wider knowledge and the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of buying a firearm are subtly spliced together with a growing darkness and insight into our protagonist’s increasingly psychotic state and unstable temperament. But Gallai also cleverly weaves seemingly random tangents – be it video messages from his father, monologues about his dead mother, or similar videos of other violent and unhinged individuals – that give the film’s central character a more conflicted and complex make-up.
Completely immersing himself in the role, the remarkable Szitás almost exclusively carries the film. Both insecure and totally assured, tragic and villainous, Szitás’ intense turn as a man whose life appears balanced on a knife edge (in every sense) is as oxymoronically powerful as they come. And Gallai’s single character set-up is made all the more unnerving and uncomfortable due to the fact that we as viewers are left with no other choice than to follow a man down a road we’re not sure we want to follow. In doing so, A Guidebook to Killing Your Ex makes the bold decision to make us feel every bit as accountable and responsible for what inevitably unfolds – we are audience and accomplice all at once.
But Gallai’s film impressively deals both in dark subject matter and equally dark humour. Szitás’ early attempts at ‘dress-rehearsing’ stalking often end in more obvious hilarity, but it’s also Gallai’s subtle undercurrent of social satire that really gives his movie a timely relevance. Cleverly digging at the Twitter-InstaFace generation of internet users, just as every meal and gym squat now needs to be shared with the world, so do instructions on how to commit heinous acts such as murder. It’s a damning assessment, deliberately hyperbolised by Gallai so that it never feels preachy. Never has the internet and the need for instant gratification been so dangerously addictive.
A Guidebook to Killing Your Ex is enjoyably sinister with a delightfully unhinged central performance, and not one to watch if you’re having relationship issues. A very simple idea makes for a work that is simply terrifying.