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Blonde Wig And Blue Contacts: X&HT Saw Benny Loves Killing

I want to talk to you about a film you've probably never heard of, and almost definitely haven't seen.

What's the point to that? It's going to come off as, at best, film-crit snobbery. At worst, you'll ignore the post (oh, he's off again) and move on somewhere else.

You'd be right, of course. But I have my reasons, and I'd ask you to bear with me just this once again. The counterintuitive nature of reviewing a film that hasn't been properly released yet somehow suits the mood of the work in question. Because Benny Loves Killing is a film that defies any conventional approach.

Let's plot-dump, so you at least have an idea of what I'm talking about. Benny is a film student who wants to make a horror film. She fails pretty conclusively as her life, such as it is, falls apart around her. She is belligerently homeless, flitting from sofa to sofa, living out of a single holdall. Her film course is purely theoretical, and her tutors are at a loss as to why she should try to make a film when it will automatically fail her and cut off her funding. She's a drug addict, adrift, a stranger in a strange land. When she tries to change herself to better fit in, she only succeeds in making herself more alien and creepy. In a blonde Louise Brooks wig and blue contacts, she tries to disguise herself; a remodelling that has disastrous consequences.

Benny Loves Killing is an exercise in queasy absurdity. Shot in London with a largely foreign cast, it looks and feels skewed and uncomfortable. It delights in frustrating our expectations, much like its heroine. It has horror-film elements (and a few chilling moments) but the gorefest blowup you're expecting from Benny never happens. She's a bit odd, but she's by no means a deranged killer. She seems unable to process the most basic forms of human interaction. Relationships with everyone from her mum to her producer friend are spiky and fraught.

The relationship between Benny and her mother anchors and guides the film. The two women are equally fucked-up, and equally unable to admit to their flaws. They're both self-absorbed junkies. They bicker and snipe, arguments standing in for conversation. Misunderstandings are leapt to and offence taken with a kind of glee. For Benny and her mum, there's no other way to talk.

As a satire on indie film-making, it's a lot more straightforward and searingly observant. Benny, it becomes clear, has no idea how to make a film, leaving all the heavy lifting to her producer while she airily declares that she is making a different sort of horror. Not so–although we see little of the nudity and blood promised in the script, she seems to be making a straight-up slasher. But she can't even talk her lead actress into shedding her clothes for a shower scene. The ad hoc, slung-togther nature of her film is something I've seen in person far too many times. A camera, a couple of borrowed rooms and a bucket of fake blood do not make for a convincing movie.

Benny is a broad, almost cartoonish creation, defiantly self-deluded, pathologically unable to compromise. She should be maddening, unbearable. She isn't. Pauline Cousty's performance is nuanced and vulnerable, frequently letting the mask slip, allowing the panic to peek out. She's set herself a path without the faintest idea of how to navigate the pitfalls, choosing instead to forge ahead until she hits a pothole. You spend the majority of the film waiting for the carcrash. It doesn't ever appear in the way you expect. This Haneke-like willingness to play with audience expectations is, to my mind, one of the film's major strengths.

OK, admission time. Benny Loves Killing was written and directed by Ben Woodiwiss, best known for his subtly subversive script for Blood And Roses. He's therefore a friend and fellow-traveller through the murkĊ· territory of lo-to-no budget film-making. His feature-directing debut is as low-key and thoughtful as B&R, delivering a character study with a satirical bite and a few sharp things to say about independent films and film-makers. You could argue it's an easy target, but in an era when low-to-no budget moviemaking is a viable option, it's always worth making the point–just because you can make a film, it's doesn't necessarily follow that you should.

In Ben's case, though, I'm rather glad that he did.

 

 

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