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Non-Review Review: Snuffed (aka Killer View)

I had the pleasure of seeing a screener of Snuffed (aka Killer View), the indie horror from writer and director Brian James O’Connell. It’s a nifty little horror thriller, that is effective and deeply unpleasant in all the right ways, with an especially fascinating little hook. The basic premise is that an amateur reporter has hooked up with a practicing serial killer, documenting and interviewing the man as he goes about his business – discussing matters of philosophy, personal preferences and even practical matters. Filmed on a low budget with a small cast, it’s a well-made film which easily distinguishes itself from the rake of serial killer films out there.

Brian O'Connell (Director) instructing the actors during a scene.

The film does well to open with a title card explaining that the aforementioned reporter is dead, thus eliminating a lot of needless suspense. If the reporter’s fate were left in doubt, the audience would be inclined to spend the film scratching their heads – wondering how insanely stupid a potential journalist must have been to take an assignment like that. As one character observes near the climax of the film, and with such incredible self-evidence that it can hardly be a spoiler, “He can’t let us go now. We’ve seen his face.”

In doing so, the film doesn’t patronise its viewers. Intrepid would-be reporter Martin Monahan is an idiot, but he needs to be in order for the basic premise to work – any viewer who has seen more than an hour of CSI would know that the character is dead the moment our serial killer wanders into frame, even with his face obscured and tattoos censored. By acknowledging that up front, the film is able to get down to business rather directly, and offer us this surreal, occasionally darkly hilarious and frequently disturbing thriller.

Admitting at the start that we are viewing “found footage”, which includes interviews and anecdotes interspaced with footage from the killer’s own “snuff” films also raises another, altogether more chilling possibility. At first, elements like the music playing over the killer’s narration playing over footage of him staring at the sun seem a little strange and out of place. The violent cuts into one of the “home-made movies” that the killer films and distributes for profit (“product, as I call it”) also draw us back out of it and seem to tease to us that this is not just Martin’s raw footage.

This film that we’re watching has been pieced together, in-universe, by somebody. And there’s a very good chance that it’s the killer himself, who is clearly good enough with film-editing software to produce his own snuff films – in a way, we are watching Martin’s snuff film, intercut with footage of another murder, for the killer’s enjoyment. Though, of course, the title card suggesting it was sent to the police anonymously seems be belie the killer’s remarks about not drawing attention to himself.

It’s a clever little trick the film pulls, sort of luring us in. The killer stalks his prey through their house, like a camera man from a horror film. In fact, it’s just as voyeuristic, with our killer seemingly going out of the way to achieve shots with maximum impact – it’s a shrewd acknowledgement of just how voyeuristic most horror movies are. And it’s the mark of a solid film that movie is able to wonderfully juggle that sort of meta-commentary and awareness with the documentary sort of feeling.

The film’s portrayal of its serial killer is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a smart move to present the character as incredibly normal, subverting a lot of casual expectations. Our killer is clearly well read (“I mean, I can read, Marty”), knowing – for instance – the similarities between pig organs and human organs and knowing a lot about his fellow serial killers and even his own pathology. At one point, Martin asks the (incredibly impertinent, if you’re dealing with a serial killer) question of whether the killer has sex with prostitutes before he kills them. Our serial offender gets quite upset at Martin, demanding, “Did you read the case histories?” Asked if he had sex with them afterwards, the criminal concedes, “That’s a legitimate question.”

The movie is aware of the clichés of serial killers we see all too often. “I don’t dress up like a clown… I don’t hear *&@#in’ voices… I don’t think my dog told me to kill people,” he explains. “I don’t cut myself… I don’t think I’m Jesus…” Asked if he thinks he’s God, he eventually replies, “Sometimes.” On the other hand, it does play some of them up. I know he’s trying to conceal his identity, but given how he goes on about stalking Beverly Hills in the right type of car, it seems strange that he talks and dresses like a redneck stereotype – complete with lazy beard and trucker cap. One would imagine he could try harder to be inconspicuous.

Noah Key is effective in the role, simultaneously managing to be utterly charming and incredibly creepy. He plays the character as the sort of smart, convincing, self-justifying sociopath that movie rarely allow their subjects to candidly be. He doesn’t make excuses for himself, so much as offering justifications. “I was just born in the wrong time,” he explains at the start of the film. Indeed, there are moments when the film seems to lean just a little bit too far towards painting the character as sympathetic (the discussion on loneliness, for example), but it makes sense if you believe that this is the character himself editing the footage.

The film manages some wonderfully dark jokes, such as the killer chopping through a dead body (while Martin vomits outside), noting the colours of the insides and asking, “You wanna have fajitas later?” Although it could weaken the film if taken to extremes, moments like these actually only make the darker segments and insights a little creepier. Occasionally during the interview segments, Martin will say something (for example, goading whether traffic makes the serial killer “angry enough to kill”) and it will provoke a change in tone from the lead and it is chilling.

The selections from one particular snuff film are intercut with the main interview. They’re raw and violent and shocking. They actually are genuinely unsettling – which, I suppose, is a massive compliment to those involved. However, making your audience so deeply uncomfortable is a very fine balancing act – a film wants to push them without seeming to go too far. There are moments in the footage when it threatens to go just a little over the line, but I think it manages quite well.

The film quality is grand. Being honest, there are some issues with video and sound quality. I know it’s meant to be a documentary production, but I’m sure Marty could possibly have a better camera or recording equipment. However, it also gives the movie something of a raw feeling, which suits the material quite well, to be honest.

Snuffed (aka Killer View) is a well-made indie film. It’s just a very well-constructed little horror movie. It has some flaws, but nothing that stops it from being a dark and powerful piece of cinema. It’s a testament to the talent of all those involved and, hopefully, a sign of things to come. If you’re looking for an effective little horror that’s perhaps a bit outside the norm, this is a very high recommendation.

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