Nicholas Hoult stars in Kill Your Friends, an adaptation of novelist John Niven‘s hateful ode to the British record industry. Being overly simplistic about it, Kill Your Friends feels like a venom-soaked British take on American Psycho – but instead of eighties excess and Huey Lewis , there is nineties hedonism and Britpop under New Labour Britain. However the genuine outrageousness of Bret Easton Ellis’s seminal text feels lost in this imitation that opts for nastiness and cheap shock tactics.
Owen Harris directs this tale which sees A&R man Steven Stelfox attempt to climb the ladder of success at his record label – bumping off the competition as he goes along.
Firstly much praise should go to Nicholas Hoult for his lead performance as ruthless music man Steven Stelfox. It’s a transformative performance which sees the star’s sleek leading man handsomeness subverted by playing such a thoroughly despicable character. There’s an intense focus in Hoult’s lead-turn as if he stares through the vapid souls of his industry competition, shrieking talentless acts, and desperate industry hangers-on. Whilst the breaking the fourth wall angle is always a little sketchy (prior to this, I stood by the idea that George Lazenby is the only man to do it with complete ease), but Hoult channels enough snark and bitterness to pull off some of screenwriter Niven’s most pitch-black comic dialogue.
There’s what feels like an inherent truth (albeit an exaggerated one) at the heart of Kill Your Friend‘s glimpse at the record business of the nineties. The emergence of pretentious drum and base acts, Oasis obsessed indie rock tripe, and talentless teen girls all squealing their way into dreams of becoming the next Spice Girls – all inhabit this bleak landscape. In this presentation of the workings within the industry, Kill Your Friends is effortlessly engaging – the ruthless Stelfox setting up his competition to spectacular falls, drug-fuelled trips to conferences in Cannes to grab the latest hit singles, and dealings with those set on making it in the industry – with or without talent – make for some darkly amusing viewing that feels soaked in real truths.
However, it’s Kill Your Friend’s desperation to shock that ultimately derails this previously entertaining watch as Niven reveals no taboo is off-limits – in this still-censored adaptation of his source novel. As the film veers further away from being a satire on nineties pop Britannia and closer to being a disappointing American Psycho knock-off, it completely loses its way in meandering plotting and the endless desire to shock. As animal murders, pornography, and mutilations make their way into the fold, Kill Your Friends becomes convoluted in an array of muddled plotting as Stelfox clumsily attempts to cover his murderous tracks, whilst still fulfilling his quest for bloodlust. The middle-act onwards feel completely derailed as sharp record industry satire loses its footing to an unshakeable nastiness and heavy-handed shocks.
Kill Your Friends had the potential to be an incredible slice of darkly comic satire capturing record label politics, but ultimately loses its way through a desperate attempt to shock. There’s nonetheless a career-best performance from Nicholas Hoult to enjoy who packs the role of Stelfox with an uneasy bitterness.
Comedy, Crime | UK, 2015 | 15 | Studiocanal UK | 6th November 2015 (uk) | Dir.Owen Harris | Nicholas Hoult, Tom Riley, James Corden, Craig Roberts, Joseph Mawle, Georgia King