Ryan Lonergan’s whip-smart comedy allegory about a polyamorous gay couple’s pilgrimage across America is a complex, razor sharp joy of a film. At once a bracing and honest portrayal of the trials and tribulations of love and a parallel for America’s turbulent politics, it’s a multi-faceted gem that deserves to reach a larger audience.
In recent years Queer cinema has offered a number of rich, topical works – from the Oscar-winning critical darlings such as Milk and Moonlight to the much-lauded Brit film God’s Own Country, they’ve charmed audiences around the world while also being bold and blistering in tackling political issues. Kill the Monsters is another strong addition to this growing catalogue, a film brimming with as much romance and eroticism as it is with tongue-in-cheek and sometimes brutal examples of the highs and lows of living in America.
The film introduces us to three men in a polyamorous relationship, the neurotic Patrick (played by writer-director Lonergan), the reckless Sutton (Garrett McKechnie) and the impressionable, impulsive Frankie (Jack Ball). When Frankie falls ill, the couple embark on a hunt for a doctor who can make him well again. What follows is a road trip unlike anything they could have imagined, one that threatens to test the deepest bonds of their relationship.
Shot in elegant, evocative black and white with a classical score and rapid fire editing and dialogue, Kill the Monsters is like the surprise queer love child of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and Manhattan. It’s a romantic comedy where the tug-of-war between Patrick and Sutton for the sickly Frankie’s affections is a stand-in for the American left and right’s endless battle for power.
But that’s not to say the film is preachy – in fact, it’s anything but. It’s endlessly entertaining and relentlessly raunchy, stumbling through its protagonists passionate desires, jealousies, and joys with wanton abandon, capturing all the absurdities and trivialities of relationships along the way. And yet it also offers just enough nods to the real world parallels for those who want something thought provoking to pick over (with some bitingly savage parallels of America’s foreign policies thrown in for good measure).
Walking this tightrope of satire and allegory are the three central leads, whose deft performances and casual chemistry subtly evokes the feel of three men all wrestling with their place in the world. Lonergan and co-stars McKechnie and Ball really shine throughout, particularly in several Sorkin-esque, long and unbroken scenes with overlapping dialogue. It results in a film that just scrapes 80 minutes of running time yet succeeds at creating believable portraits of the sometimes troubled, often vulnerable characters at its heart.
If there’s any flaw on show it’s that some of the metaphors are at times a bit too obscure, but it’s still a rewarding, ambitious film, a strong example of Queer cinema’s unique, defiant ability to tackle big questions, and excellent evidence that Ryan Lonergan is a writer-director with a promising future.