Set in 1997, Kill Your Friends takes place smack in the middle of the Britpop craze in a movie that does a shaky job at capturing the essence of American Psycho.
We follow Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult, known from X-Men: First Class and Mad Max: Fury Road), an A&R man for a never-named record label, furiously trying to reach the top of the business. Ruining somebody’s career by falsely outing them as pedophiles is not an issue for him, nor is literal murder.
I don’t know a whole lot about the record industry, though it sounds entirely plausible it was cutthroat toward the end of the nineties. Britpop was arguably the last zenith of artistically driven, top-of-the-charts music (the average number one single today has a dozen writers; twenty-plus is not uncommon), and while Stelfox seemingly can see the end of the heyday on a visceral level, it only feeds his drug-fueled hunger.
Does Stelfox know anything about music? No. He’s a businessman, and when his secretary brings him an up-and-coming group, he tosses the CD in the trash. Foreshadowing. And when his best friend, the hilariously named Roger Waters (an unrecognizable James Corden), gets the job as the head of A&R man, Stelfox cold-bloodedly snuffs him out. His rationale being Waters not knowing that Paul Weller writes his own music. (
Why do you think he’s called a singer/songwriter?)
It’s a good premise, backed by a killer soundtrack consisting of hits from Britain’s finest. Blur (
Beetlebum), Oasis (
Cigarettes and Alcohol), Radiohead (
Karma Police), and Prodigy (the unfortunately titled, but impossibly catchy
Smack My Bitch Up) make a showing, and even the original music lives up to the era’s penchant for ultra-catchy pop/rock.
Yet, the premise isn’t executed as well as the original idea, based on screenwriter Joel Niven’s own novel.
Good as Hoult is in the starring role, the character never lives up to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. For all of his flaws – being a murderer and all – Bateman was somebody you couldn’t help but kind of root for. Stelfox? He is inherently unlikable, not unlike the rest of the characters in the film. That is by design, but it gets tiresome after a while, and the final thirty minutes drag on.
Too, the subplot about a detective being bribed with a songwriting contract to look away from the Waters’ murder is beyond unbelievable. Kill Your Friends is a satire, but those kinds of elements color too far outside of the lines.
So there are peaks and valleys. When the music is pumping, Kill Your Friends shows off a great side of British rock’s final hurrah (for now), and it is fascinating to see the end of it from the inside. At the end, when the formulaic pop-band hits the top of the charts, it’s obvious where the business is going. It goes too far into la-la land more than it should, but squint your eyes at the right time, and you’ll see the bones of a good satire in Kill Your Friends. And as a free Shudder streamer, it’s worth the price of admission.