Tales of a City Girl

Kill your Friends review – plus a Q&A with Caitlin Moran

Kill your Friends is based on the 2008 novel by author John Niven, a great book of biting satire for those of us looking for a different, more updated  American Psycho.  But is the magic lost when translated into screen?

The story follows 90s A&R man Stephen Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult), a cut-throat, manipulative, murderous psychopath who lives for money, success and power. If he can’t fuck it, snort it or drink it, ideally he wants to kill it.  The film follows him as he sets to destroy anything in his way to getting to the top – the head of A&R. It’s based (loosely, he says) on author John Niven’s past life as an A&R guy.

The film takes elements on the 90s like a 90s indie soundtrack and some of the locations, but doesn’t immerse itself too heavily in it. Although having said that, without giving too much away, I doubt you could stitch up someone to the extent Stephen does by using a CD-Rom anymore.

There’s a lot of partying and a lot of drug taking and the wit is sharp and immediate and really bloody dark.  Stelfox’s reactions to the utter stupidity and bizarreness around him is probably the highlight of the film for me.

He also delivers these witty ripostes as sly asides to the camera, an inner monologue which a lot of the time were very funny (a line about Geri Halliwell swimming through an HIV-invested shark tank naked in order to get a 30 second slot on regional radio was great). It’s a great way to collude with a character who is really unlikeable – but at times it felt a bit Peep Show.

The film has graphic violence galore and these scenes are shot and built up really well – there’s a ton of anticipation, gore and an eerie detachment from Nicholas Hoult.

I watched the film preview at Curzon cinemas, which also included a Q&A with John Niven and Caitlin Moran. John said he didn’t want any ‘when I was 10, my kitten died’ story to make this kind of film work.  Basically, this means there is no reason for Stelfox to be a psychopath. John is right when he says this makes the character more bracing. The violence and anger is meaningless, and when it’s meaningless, it feels infinitely more dangerous. Stelfox is fucked up because he is fucked up.

However, whereas Christian Bale is an absolutely bone chilling Patrick Bateman, Nicholas Hoult, to me, lacks that total immersion in a character. That comparison is going to haunt Hoult when it comes to this film, but it’s kind of inevitable.  He is a brilliant actor but I don’t feel I forget he is an actor at any point. I felt I was watching Nicholas Hoult as Stephen Stelfox, not Stephen Stelfox, and that softened the character a bit when I wanted to be frightened by him.

I loved the book for its brutality, it’s lack of compromise and compassion, and it’s black humour. The film had all of these elements but somehow couldn’t recreate that exact magic that made the book so great.

The Q&A was a brilliant addition though, and there was tons of great, natural chummy chemistry between Caitlin and John. John seems like a very funny, dark guy (the edge he injects his characters with comes quite naturally, I feel…) and Caitlin is my absolute journalist idol.  Her questions positioned as ways into anecdotes were really funny to watch, especially when she got out of John the bands he passed up and signed when he was in A&R (passed up on Coldplay and Muse… the band he signed was so obscurely awful I’ve forgotten it).

Overall, if you’re thinking of watching Kill your Friends, you won’t regret it. It’s a funny satire –but if you loved the book, prepare to change up your expectations a bit.

Image attribution: YouTube