At first glance, Owen Harris‘ Kill Your Friends (2015, released in USA in 2016) bears a striking resemblance to Mary Harron‘s American Psycho (2000). Both films are based on popular novels (by Bret Easton Ellis and John Niven, respectively). Each one features a male anti-hero who pursues his self-centered ambition to the point of murder. Both anti-heroes are in industries with high income potential and low public regard. Both are the focal point of dark comedy and horrific satire.
While American Psycho skewers 1980s Wall Street investment bankers, Kill Your Friends takes on the A&R executives of the 1990s UK music industry. Justin Bateman (Christian Bale) is our anti-hero in the former; in the latter, it’s Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult). Both Bateman and Stelfox directly address the audience as they provide running commentaries on their increasingly nefarious deeds.
Here the likeness ends. Where American Psycho dives deep into horror, Kill Your Friends attempts to remain at the level of dark comedy. There are twists to Bateman’s highly psychological story that are just not present in Stelfox’ more surface-hugging tale.
Stelfox is a young A&R executive at a fictional British record label. His sole ambition is to become head of his department. He’s willing to do just about anything to achieve this goal. He’s so full of himself and convinced of the value of what he desires that other people become mere tools to him. He’s a more of a narcissist than a psychopath.
By comparison, Bateman is bored with the corporate ladder and feels so empty inside that he suspects he doesn’t really exist. Although he’s not beyond one-upmanship when it comes to material things, he’s much more of a psychopath than a narcissist. The business he’s in is full of narcissists and psychopaths, but American Psycho extends its dark satire to critique the ethos of the United States as a whole (including its then-President, Ronald Reagan). By contrast, the UK does not come in for much criticism in Kill Your Friends.
Still, Kill Your Friends is a good movie. Comparisons to American Psycho, which are only natural, do not do it justice. It’s the classic “apples and oranges” cliche. Just as Stelfox and Bateman are different, so are their stories. Unfortunately, proving this point involves revealing dreaded “spoilers” that would decrease the enjoyment of this recently-released production.
In the leading role, Hoult gives a strong performance backed by a supporting cast that matches his level of acting. Production values are good, although there are a few scenes of an airplane in flight in which it’s obvious that a scale model is being used. It’s not clear, however, that this was not done on purpose. In fact, director Harris might be pulling a much bigger gag that I’m aware of — is this film a satire of American Psycho?
You tell me.* I gave it 6 out of 10 stars on IMDb.