You’re Killing Me
Jim Hansen, Jeffery Self
Jeffery Self, Matthew McKelligon, Bryan Safi, Edi Patterson
Rachel Shukert, Jack Plotnick, Sam Pancake, Christian Olguin, Carolyn Hennesy, Ranney Draper, James Cerne
Matthew Wilkas, Drew Droege, Shaughn Buchholz
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
For decades, slasher cinema has brought plenty of buxom women and masculine me before the knife to be slaughtered for our pleasure. Although a stray gay character here and there have emerged, the vast majority of these victims were straight. You’re Killing Me is one of a rare handful of gay features that takes filmgoers inside the mind of slashers and serial killers and brings them back out largely unscathed.
The film revolves around a mentally disturbed young man whose attempts to lead a normal life after leaving the psychiatric hospital are met with frustration. Joe (Matthew McKelligon) is your prototypical serial killer: quiet, uncomfortable around others, and almost entirely emotionless. After his prior relationship comes to a painful end, he meets and begins falling for YouTube personality George (Jeffery Self). It’s only then that he begins to realize that while killing makes him feel better mentally, there might be some emotional connection he can discover in the arms of a man like George.
Epitomized in Joe’s mental flashes of modestly disturbing imagery, You’re Killing Me doesn’t entirely work. It struggles to walk the narrow line between realism and absurdity. To its detriment, the characters frequently come off like weak gay stereotypes, concerned more with pop culture entertainment, parlor games and snarky commentary than with more realistic working class concerns. Based on past efforts in the horror genre, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, but a great film needs to do more than stick so closely to tradition. The film is often at odds with itself and its own story, which makes for a sometimes trying time for the viewer.
Once Joe begins to understand who he is and how he can balance his emerging feelings for George while tapping into his inner serial killer, the film becomes something a bit more interesting. In spite of its gory, sometimes overly theatrical effects, this is not a horror film. You’re Killing Me is a dark romantic comedy that delivers to the audience something they haven’t often seen, which is both heartening and frustrating.
Not only does this perform better than many of the execrable gay slasher films released to date, it doesn’t rest entirely on clichés of the genre to keep the plot moving. The hackneyed first half of the film gives way to a story that’s more engaging than expected and turns the audience around entirely in the final reel.
Eastenders co-star McKelligon channels a version of Dexter that serves as a parody of Michael C. Hall’s emotionally detached serial killer. He plays Joe to a nearly absurd level, but does so with such a mischievous grin that you almost forget sometimes that he’s merely just a maladjusted psychopath. It also exemplifies why many gay men and straight women could so easily fall prey to such a personality. He’s awkwardly charming, attractive and, in spite of his inability to feel emotions at the beginning, comes off as a surprisingly compelling personality.
Self, frequent television guest player and co-author of the film’s screenplay, plays George with a witless self-absorption that allows him to ignore the disturbing clues that crop up around him. This permits him to fall for someone who’s sweet, wryly funny and not presumptuous. The two actors do decent work when on screen together, though the artificiality of their connection strains credibility at times.
The rest of the cast isn’t that good. The actors deliver their lines with the conviction of children playing make-believe. Their performances are often at odds with the action, which might represent keenly observed absurdity in a more tightly controlled narrative.
The script by Self and director Jim Hansen could have benefited from a more rigorous script evaluation. In spite of its plot inconsistencies and rote characterizations, the film works better than a lot of others being made today for gay audiences. This concept of absurdity crops up frequently with this film, a delicate balancing act few writers can pull off convincingly. With this film, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether the absurdity is intentional or a byproduct of converging weaknesses.
You’re Killing Me is a result of an industry that’s still struggling to find a place for gay voices both in front of and behind the camera. It often falls to small distributors like Wolfe to find a way to market and support such efforts and drive a demand for the product. While largely imperfect, the film is better than a lot of others being produced today. The production values are solid, which keeps the film from feeling like a cheesy, low-budget affair. That alone may assist in showing larger production companies that these kinds of films can be made with some success and don’t have to be shuffled off to the direct-to-video route.
March 13, 2016