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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. In fact, horror has often painted therapists as saviours who prevent disastrous events rather than instigators of trauma. Of course, in reality, the world of therapy 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 themselves have a dark history that is rarely discussed or challenged. For example, the profession condoned and encouraged electric shock therapy as a cure for homosexuality right up to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Meanwhile, it’s a profession that gave birth to eugenics and actively discriminated against people based on their 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.
READ MORE: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
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 template rather than 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 is left to fester as his outward-facing vulnerability hides the formation of a deadly killer. His therapist mother 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.
READ MORE: BOY ERASED
Debates are likely to rage over Killer Therapy’s take on the pitfalls of psychological treatment. Here doctors are happy to experiment on young minds; their short term career more important than the long-term results. The result of this leaves Brian responsible for their failures, blaming himself and his actions for the lack of progress he was promised. These are complex themes, and ultimately they deserved more time and attention in the final movie. Here Killer Therapy struggles to decide whether it’s a serial killer slasher or a deep psychological dissection of treatment, even though its strengths sit in the latter.
However, Michael Qeliqi is exceptional in his first significant film role; here, Qeliqi’s Brian is gentle, insecure and terrifying, his performance magnetic. Meanwhile, the film’s final act is both heartbreaking and terrifying in equal measure, ensuring Killer Therapy rises above the standard 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.
Killer Therapy (2019) – IMDb