Directed by Paul Adams Starring Steve Richmond Short Film Review by Evie Brudenall
The tourist and sight-seeing enthusiast Ken in In Bruges. Small-town stoner Mike in American Ultra. Yes, film has often depicted the unassuming but highly effective assassin in its time. However, the creative team behind the short film How to be a Killer decide to chronicle the journey of an aspiring killer who demonstrates a gross incompetence for the act – something I’m sure has never been seen on screen before.
Lured by the desire to regain a sense of importance and confidence within his life, an unnamed male protagonist (Steve Richmond) chooses to become a killer. The process to achieve such a status, though, is not for the faint-hearted, and the character blunders through several tribulations under the guidance of an unidentified instructor via voiceover.
As soon as we are introduced to How to be a Killer, we are confronted with contradictions through the choice of visuals and audio; the peaceful and serene balletic music that conjures up such beautiful imagery is mismatched with the melancholic black and white cinematography. Pairing that with an intricate (and briefly disorientating) tracking shot, one thing’s for sure – we’re in for a peculiar time.
Influences have clearly been drawn from several sources and writer/director Paul Adams infuses a number of conventions from a wealth of genres. For example, the black and white aesthetic combined with the mute actors and sequences of slapstick/physical comedy hark back to the silent era of filmmaking, but it’s been given its own dark and twisted flourish. As aforementioned, the central protagonist and supporting characters are entirely mute throughout, so the audience are reliant upon the music cues, visuals and performances to convey the appropriate emotions. And this is where the black comedy elements are reinforced so successfully. The frequent shift in the genre of music correlates to the mood and emotional state of the determined chief character, whether it be invigorated by the hope of success or dejected after an inevitable failure. Additionally, the amalgamation of soothing voiceover that guides our anti-hero on his quest for homicide and Richmond’s childlike expressions evoke the feeling that you’ve tuned into a very dark and not-so kid friendly CBeebies programme, resulting in assured amusement.
Unfortunately, some of the creative decisions made are to the detriment of How to be a Killer. The black and white visuals occasionally swallow images that are crucial to the plot in its dark tones and the plethora of music changes are infrequently distracting and jarring.
In terms of the plot and storyline, by the wannabe murderer’s third attempt at offing an unsuspecting victim, the gage becomes a little tiresome and you can comfortable predict the forthcoming events. The character’s motivation also proves to be a little inconsistent in the piece; during the film’s first scene, the ominous voiceover promises the downtrodden protagonist that murder is the ultimate and most rewarding revenge against those who have wronged him in order to convince him to join the callous cause. Does he target such individuals? No. Instead he preys upon the wholly innocent who have in no way caused him grievance. Dark stuff, indeed – or is it apathy and insensitivity on Adams’ behalf?
Although How to be a Killer is at points a victim of its own darkness (both literal and metaphorical), its originality prevails, and the great twist at the denouement boasts the age-old message: be careful what you wish for.
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