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  • Rev Horror

Kill Your Lover

Dir. Alix Austin & Keir Stewart (2023)

A relationship breaks down as one member becomes toxic, both metaphorically and literally.

The question as to how much you're willing to change to be in a relationship is an interesting one. Do you remain who you are, the person who drew your partner to begin with, or do you attempt to undergo personal transformation to keep them happy? How much of yourself are you willing to give up, how many of the things that make you you are you amenable to amending in order to keep someone who was originally interested in who you used to be? Perhaps the more important question is whether these changes, which everyone in any relationship will eventually make to some degree, are as good for the changer as they are for the changee. The struggle to adapt without losing yourself is a timeless one, and it's an interesting subject to analyze through the lens of a genre that already deals with transformation and the potential for them to go very, very badly.

Punk rocker Dakota (Paige Gilmour) is just getting into a relationship with Axel (Shane Quigley-Murphy), but she quickly finds herself in an entirely different place than she started. Gone is the picture wall filled with past gigs and friends long gone, replaced with throw pillows and neat frames that lack the "dirty" personality Dakota had once cultivated. She even edits the tattoo on her arm, once defiantly declaring that "everything is replaceable" and now including the caveat "[with exceptions]." Axel is changing too, however, as a black vein begins growing down his side, his touch turns to acid, and he becomes physically dangerous to live with. Rather than focusing on improving her happiness, Dakota must try just to survive, her once passionate romance becoming a life-or-death struggle.

This punk rock exploration of relationship dynamics and a physical representation of what happens when they break down is an interesting one, sort of a psychosexual drama with some terrifying and consequential manifestations. The contrast between new relationship passion and the mundanity that grows over time is made real, a corporeal body horror that plays with the toxicity that is often present within the confines of these interpersonal connections. The two actors that are the focus of the film are fantastic, and watching as Gilmour's Dakota chips away at her personality bit by bit in order to please Quigley-Murphy's Axel is disheartening. We've all met people who have been through this exact scenario, and seeing it play out in a Cronenberg-esque horror is pretty disturbing.

The toxicity within relationships is often seen as this metaphysical concept, with undercurrents of mental or emotional abuse. It's rarely discussed within the context of someone's legitimate attempts to make someone else happy, the natural conclusion of a desire to conform to the expectations of someone you love. It's normal to want to become a better person for your partner, and it's normal to demand that someone treat you in a way that affirms your own values and personality. The malignancy comes when only one side is changing, a shift that becomes less about compromise and more about control. Kill Your Lover does a wonderful job of presenting this toxic association in a tangible way, a hard-to-watch display of corruption and sickening violence.

The effects in the film are very well done, disgusting and off-putting the way the best body horror tends to be. The writing is also excellent, presenting a story that we've all seen before in a new and entirely revolting way. The story itself is fairly barebones, as almost everything that happens on-screen (at least once the story takes a turn into horror) takes place within a very small amount of time. It's told brilliantly, however, lacing in scenes from the past that explain how we got to where we are in a way that is both emotionally impactful and empathetic. The film's depiction of inward incompatibility that eventually becomes outward putrefaction is stellar, a unique and new take on an unfortunate reality for so many.

Everyone has had moments within relationships that feel similar to this, but those who have tried to change themselves for their partners, only to find constant demands for more, will find this Kill Your Lover to be an especially difficult watch. Domestic violence, psychological abuse, and relational trauma are all topics that are rife for exploration within the horror genre, and this film takes aim at a little of all three. It's a rough one, to be sure, but its exceptionally well done and a worthwhile watch. It's indie at its core, but the production values are high, and it's a film that doesn't really have any weaknesses (beyond its barebones plot). If you get the chance to check it out, I definitely recommend doing so, though you may want to be cognizant of trigger warnings if you're someone who has dealt with these types of relationships in the past.

Who this movie is for: Body horror fans, Psychological horror buffs, Unhappy girlfriends

Bottom line: Kill Your Lover is hard to watch, emotionally impactful, and absolutely disgusting, a tour de force of indie body horror with a gut punch of a message. Abuse is a topic that is often discussed, but rarely so effectively, and the film's depiction of this toxic relationship is incredibly well done. Be wary of trigger warnings, however, because those with a history of abuse and bad relationships might find this one to be a rough go. Kill Your Lover is on VOD today from MPI Media and Dark Sky, and I definitely recommend giving it a look.

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