28th Oct2015

‘Kill Your Friends’ Review

by Stuart Wright

Stars: Nicolas Hoult, Craig Roberts, James Corden, Tom Riley, Joseph Mawle, Georgia King, Ed Skrein, Jim Piddock | Written by John Niven | Directed by Owen Harris

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Kill Your Friends is adapted from John Niven’s 2009 novel. It’s a late Nineties black comedy about the last hurrahs of post-Britpop record labels before the internet came along and devalued everything they’d built their expense accounts on. The book is to the music industry what Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is to Wall Street. In so much that taking a life can be justified if winning is all and losing will get your fired.

Leading the film is Nicholas Hoult. He plays Stelfox – the ruthless and ambitious record company executive that lacks any morals or love of music. He simply craves success. Paradoxically, this has served him well to date, but the lack of a work ethic or plan is catching up with him. He needs a hit and he needs it fast if he is to stay in the job he hates, but traps him by paying him an easily earned £100,000 salary. All he wants is what’s good Stelfox and for that he is prepared to kill. Consequently, the excitement of the film comes not from the success or failure of the bands he signs, but from the will he or won’t he hold it together during his drug fuelled descent into his own madness and get caught. Which is a shame because the best bits of Kill Your Friends is when it is satirising the machinations of what people like Stelfox do. Equally, the evolution to killer is not as captivating as the tour de force madness of Christian Bale’s Patrick Batemen (American Psycho).

Kill Your Friends is littered with interesting performances from the supporting cast. Top of the shop is Craig Roberts (Submarine) as Darren, Stelfox’s underling. This bright-eyed enthusiast is pure innocence at the start of the film. He thinks it’s about the music. At the other of the scale is James Corden’s character. He lends the right amount of comedy to the hapless, cocaine-punched oaf of a Senior A & R man, Waters. Where Darren is modish and neat, Waters looks like he just escaped Glastonbury every time he steps into the office.

Once the murders start Edward Hogg (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) joins the film as the investigating police officer DC Woodham. He may well have took the day job, but he’s keener to talk about his musical aspirations than find the killer. Stelfox spots this and uses, and abuses it beautifully to his advantage.

In a haze of guilt-ridden, stoned paranoia, Stelfox seemingly sabotages himself by his own actions as his cool, controlled veneer is sullied, but as is the intent of this nihilistic careerist parable who is right and wrong isn’t as important as who succeeds. Niven’s storytelling is clever in the way Stelfox’s twisted logic and desire falls in to place during the final act as Kill Your Friends loses you in its immoral maze. There are shades of George Huang’s Swimming With Sharks (1994) in the way the ending doesn’t promise a bright future and no one has learnt anything. There is no good triumphing over evil – just a coal black funny story about the arrogance and success at all costs.

Niven wrote the screenplay and as a result Kill Your Friends is very true to the source material. Fans of the book will no doubt enjoy seeing Stelfox’s excesses and the madness of the corporate world he occupies. However, coming to the film cold, some may find Hoult’s anti-hero too unpalatable to be entertaining, but then again the clue to the film is in the title.

Kill Your Friends is released in UK cinemas on November 6th.

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