Boston Underground Film Fest 2016: ‘Kill Your Friends’ and ‘Little Sister’

kill your friends

Film: Kill Your Friends
Starring: Ed Skrein, Nicholas Hoult, Rosanna Arquette
Directed by: Owen Harris

Music industry satires seem to be a semi-popular thing to do today. Vinyl, the Scorsese-produced HBO show, is now in its fifth or sixth week of characters doing cocaine and bumping into famous bands. While Kill Your Friends doesn’t go for that same conceit, the satire ends up being limp and in favor of a main character who is trying so hard to be an asshole and spice this thing up that the fourth wall breaking ends up being a main story device. Hint: If you have to speak the story to the audience in anything other than normal exchanges of dialogue, you’re treating them a bit like idiots.

Steven Stelfox is a talent scout for a record company during the height of Britpop (think Blur and Oasis) in 1997. He can’t quite seem to catch a break with finding the next new band that’ll drive him upwards in the company, so he waxes and wanes on about the lengths he would go to to become the head of A&R. Including killing the people with higher ranks than him, of course. Blackmailing, extortion, actual murder: all tools Steven uses to further his career.

American Psycho meets The Wolf Of Wall Street” isn’t the worst analogy for Kill Your Friends; it’s just that this one doesn’t have the finger on the pulse of what makes these psychopaths so compelling: we’re meant to laugh at them, not with them. Kill Your Friends‘ Steven has a similar character arc to Bateman and Belfort, but this time there’s some room left for redemption. The film is constantly blindsided by Steven’s questioning of the universe and what he does in life, meant to add a bit of compassion to a man who climbs the ladder by removing rungs. That’s all well and good, but it just feels awkward and clunky when the movie takes those turns.

Plus side: Nicholas Hoult seems to be having a lot of fun as Stelfox, a man who finds a reason to hate everything between the lines of coke. The soundtrack is stellar, too! Including bands like Radiohead, Blur, and Chemical Brothers. I hate exclaiming that something isn’t “dark enough” or is “too pedestrian,” but Kill Your Friends is a lax attempt at taking on the music industry.




little sister movie

Film: Little Sister
Starring: Addison Timlin, Ally Sheedy, Keith Poulson
Directed by: Zach Clark

Well, folks, pack your bags; I think I just found the best film of BUFF. Director/writer Zach Clark has come back for a third time to the fest after already winning two “Best Of Fest” awards for two of his prior films. This time, he crafts a story of nuclear families, owning who you are, and GWAR through the lens of misery comedy.

Colleen (Addison Timlin) is weeks away from becoming a nun at a small convent in Brooklyn called Sisters of Mercy. After receiving an email from her mentally unstable mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy), exclaiming that her brother in the Army is home, she takes it upon herself to borrow one of the nun’s cars and venture back to Asheville, NC. It’s been three years since she’s been home. Her room is still decorated with purple paint and Gothic symbols, indicative of her rebel teenage years. Jacob, her brother, hasn’t been the same since he got home from the war and has holed himself up in the guest house in solitude. For Colleen, this is the time to make decisions on if she should take up the cloth or not.

The incredibly weird thing about Little Sister is that despite the material—which almost begs to be full of one-liners detailing the moral center of the film—it constantly surprises by defying the exact conventions that weigh heavily on so many other “coming home” movies. Sure, some of the tropes are still there: The resentful daughter, the drunk and crazy mom, the passive father, and the odd friend all occupy the story. Luckily, though, the movie resembles a Joe Swanberg film (Swanberg also produced Little Sister). The film has this laissez-faire discourse that prevents it from falling into convention. There’s no rush for Colleen to go back to the convent or make up with her family. Things just go on naturally, dictated by conversations instead of a rush to get to a conclusion.

There’s also this liberalism undercurrent that adds a great layer to a story that didn’t really need it. All of these events take place in 2008 during election season. People talk to Jacob like Obama is the enemy that put him into his terrible position, but nothing could be further from the truth. TVs play Obama’s speeches during dinner parties, making them events for whomever is watching them. That election was about hope and change, which the Lunsford family was in desperate need of. Utilizing that theme by way of that election season context only elevates Little Sister.

Also, the performances are really damn good. Barbara Crampton plays a nun! Addison Timlin is pitch perfect as Colleen, a girl who’s sullen exterior is slowly chipped away by slipping back into her old shoes. Little Sister isn’t pro-religion or anything, it’s pro do whatever you want in life. Keith Poulson is also really great as Jacob, sporting this lived-in flair as he slinks around the town of Asheville like an apparition. Ally Sheedy is excellent as Joani, too, with psychotic flare-ups denoted by a heavy understanding that she isn’t the best mom in the world.

The fest may not be over yet, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a film more surprising and delightful than Little Sister. Misery may love comedy, but some of the funniest things you find in life are found when not doing much at all.


little sister movie 2

Sam Cohen
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