The masked and hooded spectres that haunt the slasher genre with blood-soaked implements of death always beg the question: how did they get to this point? While part of their allure has always been their mystery, wanting to uncover the backstory of a theatrical serial murderer is a compulsion for audiences and filmmakers alike. Killer Therapy is a film that intends to offer a realistic answer to this question. It shows how a series of therapists, ranging from the ineffective to the outright malicious, could transform a “normal” child into an unstoppable revenge killer.
Our tragic story follows Brian Langston (played by Jonathan Tysor as a child, and Michael Qeliqi as an adult). Brian reacts poorly to his parents adopting a sister for him, and begins to experience violent rages. When his parents decide to take him to a child psychologist, who molests him, his behaviour only spirals and becomes more destructive. This sparks a pattern of Brian seeing therapists who either fail to help him or actively make his mental state deteriorate. Whenever he is judged well enough to return home, some kind of trigger, like a school bully or the cruelty of his overbearing father, causes him to relapse.
This is a subject matter that hits close to home for writer/director Barry Jay. Jay has risen to fame in the fitness world following a difficult early life of addiction, familial tension and victimisation for his sexuality. The venom that the film has for therapists and the system that fails at-risk youth is palpable, and is likely reflective of Jay’s own feelings towards these institutions. Our protagonist is not just let down by the therapists he sees, but more often than not is completely betrayed by them.
While one therapist is a well-meaning school counsellor who is simply out of her depth, others are cold and career-minded, and one even puts Michael through a “treatment” that amounts to little more than torture.
It’s a hard-hitting film, but the seriousness of its message is occasionally undercut by technical problems that leave it feeling like an “issue of the day” TV movie. Chief amongst these is the shallowness of most of the characters that surround Brian. There are some good performances here, and a few from recognisable genre favourites, such as Adrienne King of Friday the 13th fame, but too often the characters are flat. Their dialogue lacks subtlety, and the immersion can be spoiled by exchanges that are way too on-the-nose.
This ropey dialogue can perhaps be attributed to the scope of the story. There is a whole lot of ground to cover here, as Brian transitions from troubled child to awkward teen and finally to murderous adult. Characters have to be upfront about their motivations because they can’t take up too much of the runtime. Unfortunately, this transforms most of them into simplistic archetypes, whether they’re pointlessly cruel school bullies or megalomaniacal therapists. There is no time here for shades of grey.
The cyclical nature of the story, with Brian constantly entering treatment, being released and then heading back again, while necessary to convey the circular nature of failed treatment, can make the plot repetitive and dry. What’s worse, the final denouement, in which Brian matures into the compulsive killer that his behaviour has been hinting at throughout, feels rushed and in some ways tacked on to the ending.
Some good cinematography picks up some of the slack for the weaker aspects of the script, with Brian’s mental state reflected by dark shots and frenetic montages. That said, the familial drama scenes still have that Hallmark movie feel. Michael Qeliqi’s performance is also commendable, and the film’s real strength is in the way it toys with the audience’s allegiances throughout, garnering sympathy for its protagonist before pulling the rug out from under us with some unjustifiable violence.
All in all, Killer Therapy is an ambitious film that perhaps bites off a bit more than it can chew. Fans who buy into the marketing around the film and expect a straightforward slasher are likely to be disappointed. However, while the film is a little inconsistent and suffers from some pacing issues, it tackles some weighty themes in a way that is thoughtful and considered.