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The horror genre is full of films that have laced damaged childhood with adult terror— with many defining characters of the genre built on our fascination with childhood trauma and its influence on crime. However, few have explored therapy’s role in building the adult, good and bad. In fact, horror has often painted therapists as saviours in helping to prevent disastrous events. Whereas, in reality, the world of therapy is itself a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences. The concepts and ideas that surround its practice continually changing as our understanding develops.
For example, horrific electric shock therapy was widely used and accepted as a cure for homosexuality in the 1960s; but we now view this as abhorrent. However, despite this change, many older gay men still suffer from this historical practice’s outcomes. With psychology often reticent in owning mistakes and apologising publically for experimental treatments. Many of which were forced on participants by a society based on discrimination and intolerance.
However, in drama, psychological treatments have long been challenged. From Stanley Kubrick’s stinging reflection of aversion therapy in A Clockwork Orange, through 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 dramatic contemporaries, its exploration is rooted in a serial killer template. Of course, this raises several potential risks. Including audience perception of the films deeper themes, and its ability to support the debates it creates within the genre. However, to its credit, Killer Therapy understands this and opts for a psychological thriller aesthetic, above that of slasher horror; even if the film’s advertising is less than clear that this is not a mainstream slasher flick.
Brian Langston (Jonathan Tysor and Michael Qeliqi) spends his life moving in and out of psychiatric facilities. His volatile behaviour at home and school never fully diagnosed as he grows. While at the same time, jealously of his adopted sister eats away at his ability to function. His outward vulnerability hiding a deadly killer instinct. And while his therapist mother attempts to support his needs and development, her belief in treatment only perpetuates his pain; the boy running a gauntlet of experimental therapies. Meanwhile, his pain and isolation only build; his sexual abuse at the hands of his first therapist shrouded in secrecy. The result of which creates a monster hidden under a cloak of vulnerability.
Debates are likely to rage over Killer Therapy and its view of psychological treatment. After all, here doctors are happy to experiment on the young mind. Their careers built on public acceptance of their power; their work’s long-term results less critical than the brief yet powerful intervention they make. While at the same time, Brian accepts his treatment’s failings, blaming himself and his actions for failure. For many, this will only negatively impact the fantastic work of many therapists. While for others, it may trigger memories of harmful interventions long-held a secret. With both of these potential discussions ensuring Killer Therapy divides both audience and critical opinion alike.
However, whatever your thoughts on the treatment of the subject matter at its heart, Killer Therapy shines in its lead actors’ performances. And among these, Michael Qeliqi is exceptional in his first significant film role. Qeliqi’s Brian is both gentle, insecure yet deadly, his performance utterly magnetic in its complexity. With the films final act, both heartbreaking and terrifying in equal measure. His interpretation of Brian as he grows, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. While at the same time, ensuring the film rises above the standard tropes of serial killer horror. And when coupled with an ensemble cast who also bring gravitas to the journey Brian takes. Killer Therapy becomes a fascinating and intricate thriller that deserves more than one viewing.
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