‘An American Killing’ does well to merge psychological thriller with traditional slasher elements in a film which makes familiar grounds feel somewhat fresh.
Utilising a strong cast and attention to detail when it comes to the film’s technical features, the film punches well above its weight, especially considering its fairly generic plot and limited budget.
The plot follows Jeb, a writer of a failing cartoon series entitled ‘Annie and the Aliens’. The film opens with Jeb being informed that his show is to be axed if he does not deliver 30 quality scripts in 30 days. Being left with little option he assembles his writing team in a remote house to settle into their task. Seeing the writing on the walls, and against specific instruction Jeb decides to embark on a new project, the secret filming of his co-workers using covert cameras. Sprinkling a little manipulation in for good measure he manages to capture footage of their efforts, and personal activities – but to the detriment of the team’s motivation and social fabric. As the team unravels, Jeb is ultimately fired, but his final ‘masterpiece’ is not yet completed. Snapping under the pressure, he returns to the house for his voyeuristic feature’s grand finale.
In terms of the plot, there’s nothing particularly new. From some respects the film reminds me of some early 00s films such as ‘My Little Eye’ which also utilises hidden cameras to push the films plot in different directions, but for the most part, you can see where the film is heading right from its outset. It is the characters, and the casts performances, that really hold this film up. Whilst the film doesn’t try to break any moulds with its personas, the films favours a mature set of characters over clueless teens and this helps give the concept a chance at feeling feasible generating some tangible tension and atmosphere. As you would expect, on the surface, each member of the writing team are there on account of their professional talents, however, Jeb’s hidden cameras allow each characters sub-plots to develop, which can then be manipulated to drive the tension further. The plot stays interesting, as, whilst you know where the films conclusion will lie, there are some small twists and turns in its journey to get there.
The script is equally strong, with some pretty funny/awkward moments in the film which helps to either lighten the mood, or create some atmosphere, whilst the camera work and on location shots compliment the films psychological elements which focus a lot on isolation, depression and personal vice.
Eventually the film reaches its conclusion and then the groundwork put in developing the characters, specifically Jeb’s, whose interest in hidden cameras and tendencies towards voyeurism extend beyond his show, tie neatly together. The conclusion, whilst lacking any hard violence, is dark enough to make an impact, albeit rather limited. It would have been nice for the film to have gone fairly nuts towards the end, and certainly the isolated location paved the way for some creative killing! Sadly, the film plays it safe, going for the unhinged talkative-type killer over the silent, more brutal types.
Overall, however, despite the films generic feeling ending, the rest of the film is engaging, has some great moments and is well paced. Whilst it’s not going to blow anyone away with either its content or direction of travel, its characters give you something to invest in and there’s enough tension keeps you engaged. We watched this move as the B-movie for our evening’s entertainment and it did the job admirably. A cool little movie all said and done.