By Jude Warne.
Benny Loves Killing is director Ben Woodiwiss’ debut feature British film, and has multiple festival awards to its name, including the award for best horror film at the Oregon Independent Film Festival. Despite this particular genre categorization of the film as a “horror film,” it is up for debate whether it can classified as such, for there is very little of the typical horror to be found within it – perhaps Benny Loves Killing is more of a merging of mystery, suspense, and unreality.
Woodiwiss’ story follows the character of Benny, played quite naturally (and at times so natural that it approaches the realm of the overly self-aware) by Pauline Cousty, a film student intent on completing her meta-horror film project for her university’s program. Problems arise when her film course requires her to submit a theoretical project, while Benny is determined to submit a practical one: her dream film.
No one seems to understand Benny throughout the course of Benny Loves Killing: her university program threatens to withdraw her student funding if she does not complete her assignments properly, she drifts from apartment to apartment unable to find a satisfactory (and fee-free) place of residence, and her mother and her do not get along. That’s not to mention an overriding factor that colors the whole film and causes the viewer to abandon sympathy for Benny’s character: Benny is kind of a terrible person. She mooches off of her university contacts and her mother by staying in the apartments of others, she doesn’t seem to have any form of paid part-time work, such as running shifts at the local coffee house, as standard film students are wont to do. Also, Benny is a major drug addict. Also, Benny refuses to compromise on her creative work – we see this when one of the actors in her film takes issues with some of the script’s nude scenes and Benny views it as a critical point in how-true-to-oneself-does-one-play-it. Benny’s character lacks the charismatic suavity of a director who works her actors, expertly playing to egos and weaknesses, to get what she wants out of them. This refusal to compromise is also a bit of an artistic handicap – it’s not as if Benny is a workaholic with a vision larger than herself. She spends much of the film wandering around the streets of Britain, through the apartments of friends and acquaintances (where she sometimes steals things for no apparent reason), and seemingly trying to escape herself. She wears wigs, piles on make-up, dresses up in costumes that take her away from her own issues and baggage. She behaves, most of the time, like a petulant child. It is difficult to sympathize with her.
Despite this terrible-person shtick, Benny’s screen presence drives much of the film, for it is difficult to stop watching her – even if all she is doing is wandering through an apartment piking up various knickknacks. The film does seem to directly pick apart the heretofore-accepted ideas of female characters in horror genre cinema, both in its characterization of Benny and the direct conversations between characters about the role of the female in the horror film. There are no visualized male characters in the film, only a couple come to us off screen – the bulk of the film’s world is a world of individualized women.
The way in which the film’s story moves ahead is initially frustrating, for its pace is very slow. Once the viewer relaxes into this slow pace, the viewing experience becomes more enjoyable and the world of the story more inviting. The way in which Benny Loves Killing is shot amplifies Benny’s emotional and psychological state; there are many close-ups and the backdrops are mainly interiors, resulting in a stifling effect. What few exteriors there are depict grey-white skies and deserted streets. The entire film feels icy and cold.
Benny’s, or more so Cousty’s, cool-Euro-chick vibe is initially intriguing but it soon wears thin and borders on the irksome. She gets so mad when her university contact won’t let her stay in his apartment for an additional number of days than initially agreed upon! Granted, her “home” home also houses her emotionally troubled, drug-addled mother. However, it’s where most people go when there’s nowhere else to. Moreover, Benny is also drug-addled, so the potential situation is not entirely alien to her. Also, something else to consider, or rather reiterate: what else does Benny do besides work on her film project? Most cinema students have another job too, a part-timer – can’t Benny work three days a week as a barista somewhere like other college kids do? Or babysit? Or apply herself as a work-study in a university office? The possibility of getting an additional job doesn’t seem to occur to her; she’s too busy sniffing cocaine.
It should be mentioned that Benny’s character does manage to carry the whole film, and her presence is almost gender neutral: the all-business attitude, the lack of interest in romantic relationships. Only when some creepy sexual aggressor bothers her in a scene toward the end do we remember, “Ah yes, she’s a female, and thus subject to deal with dominating creeps who prey on anything in skirts.” This moment in the film is unsettling and disappointing, serving as an unwelcome reality check of sorts. The one horrific element of Benny Loves Killing is a recurring dream that Benny keeps having, the significance of which we cannot know until the film’s end. This dream is the stuff that horror films are usually made of: a whispering voice of unintelligible monologue, a lone figure wandering down a darkened unidentifiable hallway. Emotions are heightened, us viewers are sharpened and alert – and then Benny wakes up from the dream. For a few moments though, we have been legitimately frightened.
Are you wondering whether or not Benny has her moment of realization, a revelation of what kind of human being she really is? Are you wondering whether or not she is force-fed a spoonful of conscience comeuppance?! Well, such information cannot be divulged as of yet – you’ll just have to watch the film.
Jude Warne is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.
Benny Loves Killing is currently available on Vimeo on Demand.