This offbeat independent film is subtitled “An American Allegory”, and indeed it’s seriously on-the-nose. With Kill the Monsters, which played at Raindance Film Festival, writer-director Ryan Lonergan makes every scene mean something. The film is skilfully shot in black and white, and inventively edited and performed.
It opens in New York, where gay couple Sutton and Patrick (Garrett McKechnie and Lonergan) have brought a third, younger man Frankie (Jack Ball) into their relationship. They decide that this is the perfect way to live, and that everyone should be as happy as they are. But Frankie develops a mysterious illness, so they agree to move to California, where the weather is better. A road trip ensues, stopping off in Washington DC for a spot of tourism before heading across country. In Kansas, they make an extended stop to visit their cousin Edith (Zuhairah McGill). There they get involved in dodgy business dealings to make some cash, which they of course lose before moving on, crossing the Rockies and Utah’s canyons to Las Vegas and ultimately Santa Monica.
There, the story shifts as they become increasingly involved in the politics of their condominium block. Still trying to convince their all-lesbian neighbours of the value of being a threesome, they have a tense poker game with a pushy German (Julia Campanelli), which they survive with some help from a bold Russian (Careena Melia). Later they have even more complex dealings with an Iraqi neighbour (Anna Myrha). Ultimately, they turn to a clown (Ellen Etten) for advice.
It’s difficult to watch the film without trying to work out exactly what each person and event is symbolising on-screen. Lonergan makes it fairly easy to keep track by adding chapter titles using years, starting with “1776” and ending with “2017”. But even this pulls us out of the story itself, which has some power of its own thanks to the strong characters and ideas. McKechnie and Lonergan are superb as 30-something gay men; Sutton goes with the flow but struggles with addiction issues, while the more intense Patrick speaks in rapid-fire bursts. And Ball’s Frankie is a likeable figure between them, eager to please and also able to fend for himself when he’s forced to. Together they have a sexy sense of chemistry, including some surprisingly hot bedroom moments.
Lonergan also edited Kill the Monsters himself, and cleverly chooses to cut through scenes with an intriguingly impatient style, so the story leaps forward briskly and unexpectedly, only pausing occasionally for a longer sequence. This adds a snap of energy that holds the attention and makes us sit up and take notice of Lonergan’s talent (as well as cinematographer Andrew Huebscher).