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The horror genre is stuffed with films that lace a damaged childhood with an emerging or fixed adult terror. Many of the defining characters of the genre are built on our fascination with childhood trauma and its influence on crime. However, few have explored therapy’s role in building a damaged adult; horror has often painted therapists as saviours who prevent disastrous events rather than instigators of trauma. However, the therapy world is a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences, with many unregistered so-called therapists in practice. Meanwhile, others pretend to offer counselling and support without formal qualifications and experience, damaging the individual seeking further help. Within these themes, Killer Therapy offers us something decidedly different to similar horror outings.
Therapy and psychology have a dark history that is rarely discussed or challenged. For example, the profession condoned and encouraged electric shock therapy to cure homosexuality until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Meanwhile, it’s a profession that gave birth to eugenics and actively discriminated against people based on race. In drama, the dark history of psychology has been challenged, from Stanley Kubrick’s stinging dissection of aversion therapy in A Clockwork Orange to Miloš Forman’s exploration of mental health treatment in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Therefore, Barry Jay’s Killer Therapy is not unique in exploring the failings of treatment, but unlike many of its contemporaries, Jay’s movie is rooted in classic serial killer horror. But does it work? To its credit, Killer Therapy understands the deeper social themes at its heart and opts for a psychological thriller rather than a slasher horror. But despite some success, it struggles to adequately unpick many of its core themes, losing its way on several occasions.
Brian Langston (Jonathan Tysor and Michael Qeliqi) spends his life moving in and out of psychiatric facilities, his volatile behaviour never fully diagnosed as he grows. While at the same time, his jealousy of his adopted sister festers as his outward-facing vulnerability hides the formation of a deadly killer. His mother, a therapist, continually attempts to support his needs and development as he grows. Still, her belief in treatment only perpetuates his pain as Brian faces a maze of experimental therapies. But as he grows into a man, this maze only expands with each therapist he meets offering freedom while only further locking in his violence and hate.
Debates will likely rage over Killer Therapy’s take on the pitfalls of psychological treatment as doctors experiment on a young mind, their short-term career more important than the long-term results. These are complex themes, and ultimately they deserve more time and attention in the final movie as Killer Therapy struggles to decide whether it’s a serial killer slasher or a deep psychological dissection of treatment. However, Michael Qeliqi is exceptional in his first significant role, while the final act is heartbreaking and terrifying. These two factors ensure Killer Therapy rises above the standard of serial killer horror into something more complex and engaging. The problem is we needed more of this for it to hit all the right notes in all the right places.
MY DEAD ONES
Central to director Diego Freitas’ ambitious movie is a captivating central performance from Nicolas Prattes as David; it’s a performance you don’t easily forget but equally feels let down by the over-ambition of the narrative. Freitas’ risk-taking is to be admired as he attempts to offer us a detailed exploration of fractured reality, internal divide and voyeurism through the eyes of a vulnerable young man whose worldview is unreliable and chaotic. However, despite brief moments of Hitchcock-inspired psychological terror, My Dead Ones quickly enters a maze it sadly can’t escape.