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Benny Loves Killing – Review


Release Date: 2012 - Recent Re-Release Through Festivals
Director: Ben Woodiwiss
Writer: Ben Woodiwiss
Cast: Pauline Cousty - Canelle Hoppe - Kristina Dargelyte



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Posted October 22, 2015 by

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Benny Loves Killing Review:

One of my personal highlights from the No/Gloss film festival this year, Ben Woodiwiss’ genre-defying feature tells the story of Benny (an incredible Pauline Cousty), a young French film student trying to make a horror film, despite the fact she is doing a theory course, and the powers that be are threatening to withdraw her funding if she continues down this route. Benny’s desire to present her academic work in an unconventional way becomes a borderline obsession as she is reportedly told to forget about her directorial aspirations and write a thesis like everybody else, and she resorts to increasingly more desperate methods to survive and get her film made with no financial support.

As Benny’s project is derailed, her life begins to unravel too. She exhausts the goodwill of the people whose couches she sleeps on, and resorts to thieving and lying. She exploits both strangers and those closest to her and relies on endless lines of cocaine, joints, and cigarettes to get through each day.

Shot using mostly natural light, with the camera in constant, extremely close proximity to Cousty, Benny Loves Killing evokes the sense of dread and tension you’d expect from a horror film without actually being a horror film per se. In fact it’s a meta-meta film, which deploys many of the conventions of horror, but is actually more of a psychological drama about the real-life horrors of poverty, addiction, alienation, and loss of agency, in the vein of Requiem for a Dream. Benny tells her tutors she wants to make “a horror film about a horror film…a horror film about cinema”, and while the tropes of horror are discussed throughout, we actually see very little of Benny, the director.

One part of the process we do see on-screen is the casting of Benny’s leading lady. A young actress expresses surprise on meeting Benny, and her friend, Alex, that they are both women, and later questions whether Benny is doing anything different or innovative with her movie. Indeed, after explaining that POV shots don’t make you identify with the killer in traditional horror narratives, but rather sympathise with the victim you are looking at, Benny becomes agitated when her star refuses to go topless, cementing and perpetuating the idea that objectification and misogyny pervade the horror genre. Perhaps by naming his main character after himself, the director is suggesting that the ‘male gaze’ is always prevalent, even when it’s a woman calling the shots.

Woodiwiss populates his feature with an almost entirely female cast, and male characters are only shown briefly, from behind, or heard off-screen. In this largely female world, Benny finds little comfort or safety. She receives unwanted sexual advances from an acquaintance she’s been staying with, who implies it might be time for her to pay rent in kind, and is threatened by her highly-strung, paranoid, and violent drug-dealer. Her mother invites her to stay, but is in the grips of her own heroin addiction and in no position to offer real assistance or emotional support. But if the women Benny encounters are dangerous, the man she ends up trapped in a bathroom with at the end of the film is the stuff of all-too-real nightmares. By keeping the camera trained so closely on Cousty, Woodiwiss ensures we are complicit in a form of voyeurism, but also that we sympathise with Benny. She is both the subject of our gaze, and also a watcher in her own right. Benny sneaks around other people’s homes, violating them, snooping and stealing. She is both perpetrator and victim.

Whilst Benny Loves Killing raises many questions about genre and the nature of filmmaking itself, it’s predominantly a character study. Benny is certainly not likeable, but she is absolutely compelling and worthy of our sympathy. She drifts from scene to scene, increasingly pale and tired-looking, in a fug of smoke and coffee steam. She is sullen and pig-headed, assured of her own talent although we see no real evidence of it. She refuses to wash her hair, claiming that a phobia of water makes showering an ordeal for her, but her affliction comes across as a lie, something fabricated or stolen, much like Alex’s childhood syndrome, which Benny takes and absorbs into her own history. She has nightmares which hint at something terrible in her past (or maybe her future), and her behaviour becomes more erratic as the film progresses. Benny takes to wearing (stolen) wigs to cover her dirty hair, one platinum blonde and one jet black, and these serve as an outward symbol of the fracturing of her personality, and maybe her desire to claw back control by becoming someone else. In one scene, Benny literally makes up one side of her face, highlighting her duplicity, and also the difference between how she’d like to be perceived and the reality.

The film’s climax is deliberately ambiguous. Having been living on the fringes, do the horrible things that happen to her force Benny out of her fantasies and make her ready for a spiritual rebirth, or is she descending further into her own confabulations? Certainly it’s hard to take anything in this multi-layered movie at face value.

Markus A Ljungberg’s claustrophobic cinematography and Jon H Orten’s haunting soundtrack give Benny Loves Killing a constant sense of foreboding, and Cousty’s standout performance had me gripped from start to finish. Not an easy watch, but a thought-provoking and complex one which feels fresh and different.


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Katie Young
Katie Young – Author
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