We seem to be experiencing an influx of bachelorette party with that one awkward friend horror as of late (Sissy, Stag, etc.), and now director Robyn August’s oddball bloodbath, KillHer, joins the guest list as a fun albeit mixed bag of party favors for genre fans.
Written by Tom Kiesche, the film follows horror fanatic Eddie (M.C.Huff), the host of a bachelorette party camping trip for best friend, Mattie (Jenna Z. Alvarez). Along with Mattie’s other friends, Jess (Emily Hall) and Rae (Nicole Lovince), they head out to the location where the bride to be’s fiancé, Jagger (Jack Schumacher), is supposedly waiting. But when they discover a burly hunter (Kiesche) in what they thought was Jagger’s tent, assumptions are made, secrets are revealed, and blood is shed.
Hailing from a music video background, August injects a heavy dose of style inspired by 80s slasher fare for his woodland horror comedy. Set to a banging retro score by Michael Teoli, there’s an energy that pulses through KillHer like a thousand volts of electricity that could get Jason Voorhees to rise from the grave and do a little jig. A constantly moving camera. Fast zooms. Characters taking it to eleven every chance they get. And a whole lot of screaming. KillHer is an adrenaline boost with an obvious passion from the filmmakers. The script meanders and the jokes don’t always land, but there’s no denying that the cast and crew are pouring everything they have into the film and having a good time doing it.
In a movie that saves most of the mayhem until the final act, an engaging cast is vital and the actresses in KillHer are up to the task. Alvarez glows with charm as naïve and all too forgiving Mattie, while Hall and Lovince provide just the right amount of annoyed contention with Eddie without sacrificing the personality of their characters. However, it’s Huff that is the show stealer as Eddie. With a performance that ranges from sweet and dorky to attention-grabbing wildness, Huff is the spark that keeps this campfire slasher lit through a chaotic script that consistently threatens to fall apart. Scene to scene, we as the audience have no idea what to expect from her, placed in the same position as Mattie’s wary friends who have plenty of reason to be cautious around the strange prankster with a passion for scaring others.
What doesn’t work as well is a script that is, at best, a vague mess that consistently forces characters into head scratching decisions while telegraphing exactly where it’s going. It’s one thing for the girls to ignore the fact that Mattie’s fiancé is nowhere to be found when they arrive at his tent. It’s a whole other red flag for them to decide to stay once they discover a random weirdo is sleeping there, instead. Toss in Eddie suggesting they all take their clothes off by the fire, obvious lies and some mysterious bloodstains, and you’ll want to rip your hair out as the characters ignore one warning sign after the other. Yes, we know people don’t always make the best decisions in these movies, but even horror fans have limits.
Frustrating life choices and oddball humor undercut just about any sense of tension through the first two-thirds of an otherwise scare-less film. A perplexing choice, considering KillHer is actually quite deranged with a truly psychotic villain. There’s plenty of potential for rich terror. Yet if it weren’t for a brief flashback showing the bloody death of Jagger’s parents and ex at the hands of a mysterious killer, you probably wouldn’t know this was a horror film. Thank goodness for entertaining characters to pull the audience through the lost in the woods script. Missing from the writing as well is an understanding of these girls and their relationships. There’s enough to get that Mattie’s friends don’t exactly like Eddie, but what we don’t have is who any of these people really are. Only Eddie is given any sort of development, but we don’t even learn she’s Mattie’s roommate until towards the end, for example. To put it another way, KillHer is a serving of s’mores without the marshmallow. It has the crunchy outside of the graham crackers, but no warm center to really tear into.
Murky motivations and a lack of atmosphere or scares drag KillHer down, which is unfortunate for this friendship themed, Disney channel-like comedy meets bloody slasher since it has an otherwise infectious energy and a wild third act that satisfies. It may be missing many of the hallmarks that make an effective slasher—though a memorable killer is not one of them—but there’s enough spirited charm in August’s sophomore feature that has me curious to see what the director could accomplish with a more well-developed script. Until then, his latest makes for a lively tale by the fire that reminds us we can never really know who to trust until they take off their mask and show us who they really are.
KillHer arrives in select theaters and on digital October 20th from Dark Sky Films.
By Matt Konopka