Chapter One: Toxic Relationships
On a cold night in New York City, young Frankie (Jack Ball) is working himself to the bone for a British banker who throws files at him and drags him to the toilet so he can take notes on her schedule. His job is so stressful, he can’t finish his dinner and vomits out his dinner. Frankie isn’t well, sick of the general malaise of modern times. Fortunately, he’s in a throuple with hunky trust-fund-baby Sutton (Garrett McKechnie) and freelance-blogger Patrick (writer-director Ryan Lonergan) who are able to support Frankie after he quits his job. Not knowing what is destroying their young boy toy, Sutton buys a condo in Santa Monica and takes the family on a road trip across America so Frankie can see some hippy doctor in the hopes of curing what ails him.
In a way, Lonergan’s Kill The Monsters is the sexy road trip version of [Safe] with Frankie in the Julianne Moore role as a dependent character taken with some mysterious illness who constantly ends up in the hospital in need of severe help. Let me dispel your fears: unlike [Safe], Kill the Monsters is not an AIDS movie. Frankie is not sick with the dreaded gay disease that nobody can talk about. If anything Frankie is being made sick by the toxic relationship in which he is embroiled. Sutton and Patrick were in a relationship before Frankie came along and they found out they all needed each other, but Sutton and Patrick have money while Frankie does not. Frankie is treated like a kid while watching the two wealthier partners fight over what’s best for the relationship and what’s best for him.
Sutton is a drug-using hedonist who tempts Frankie with pot, crack, junk food, television, video games and constantly encourages Frankie to be lazy and stupid. Patrick wants Frankie to work to better himself in the vain hope that, by bettering himself, Frankie’s health will improve and he will be happier and more independent (but not independent enough to leave the throuple). Frankie waffles between the two, creating chaos and turbulence in his wake as neither Sutton nor Patrick can live without him. Hell, Sutton even has the delusion that their relationship is working out so fantastically that being in a throuple is the only way for any serious relationship to survive.
Chapter Two: The American Dream
Earlier I said that Kill the Monsters is not an AIDS movie. I didn’t say it wasn’t an allegory. In the opening title card, Lonergan labels Kill the Monsters as “An American Allegory,” and the director’s notes painstakingly introduces the allegory of Kill the Monsters to make sure no screener misses the point of the movie. Kill the Monsters is actually an allegory for the entire history of America and the American political system. America has been in a 250 year abusive relationship with the moneyed elite who want to control us and manipulate us to the point of making us sick, but realize they can’t survive without us. Sutton and Patrick are the twin poles of conservatism and liberalism/neo-liberalism controlling and manipulating the younger boy toy of the American public.
Lonergan divides the movie into ten chapters labeled only with landmark years in American history from 1776 through the present day. Each chapter is a landmark era-defining year that both tells where the story is going to go and what the story represents; Chapter 2 is 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase and is the chapter in which Sutton buys the condo in Santa Monica. Yes, we’re all here for the sexy dysfunctional relationship, but it’s quickly noticeable that the story is in service to the allegory and not the other way around.
Sutton, Patrick and Frankie are the only male characters, representing the American political system. All the side characters are women representing different continents, countries, modes of thought, or just plain old corporate America. Sutton’s touting of the threesome is a ridiculous parody of all those annoying polygamists who like forcing their form of love upon everybody else; but it also works as American conservatives thrusting American democracy on every country they come in contact with. If that doesn’t sell you on how ridiculous Kill The Monsters actually is, nothing will.
Chapter Three: The Bones
This movie would not work if it weren’t for Lonergan’s aggressive confrontational style. DP Andrew Huebscher (The Taking of Deborah Logan) uses the black and white image (a color choice that represents the choices of the American public) and pushes the formalism as far as you can go. Whole scenes are single shots on American monuments where the main characters are little more than pixels on a projected theater screen. Take a gander at the lead frame where Frankie is a little kid dwarfed in a bathtub by the twin towers of his boyfriends/keepers. Not a single frame in Kill the Monsters is out of place.
The image is accentuated by an aggressive delivery system where the actors deliver mountains of dialogue at a rapid fire pace without having time to breathe. It doesn’t even qualify as rapid fire so much as a barrage of manipulation designed to inundate Frankie and the audience. When the characters aren’t talking, Lonergan cuts away to the next sequence blasting classical music at full volume. Coming in at a slim 77 minutes, Lonergan crams the movie with meaning and messages in every corner in a way that’s nearly exhausting (especially if you aren’t prepared for it).
Did I mention, this is funny? Everything in this movie is simultaneously a pitch black dramedy and an outrageous outlandish satire, and nearly all of it is bitingly brutally hilarious. To me. The audience I saw this with was floored by the movie. Some laughed, many cringed, some were exhausted; nobody was prepared. Extra-textually, I’ve had 3 conversations about Kill The Monsters in 24 hours, and they’re all intelligent. Lonergan stuffs the movie with a lot to chew on and it may be a film that will open up even wider on a second viewing. I hope so, because the first viewing was sharp as a tack. This is more proof that queer cinema can be thought provoking even when we’re thinking with our dicks.