Killers Without a Cause
In modern times, where the pursuit of short-term pleasure is omnipresent and the indulgent agenda of a consumerist society in which the hegemony of a hedonistic culture has control over entertainment, it is more than gratifying to know that there are films like Some Visitors that refute the pusillanimous humanism and rhetorical Western optimism. There are plenty of home invasion films out there – it is admittedly a genre routinely explored ad nauseam – yet this astute short film is the exceptional case. Having as its philosophical bedrock disturbing questions about evil and its inextricable relationship to human beings, the critical apparatus rooted in its home invasion movie format features psychosocial nuances that prove to be urgent revelations of our doomed society dwelling in a dysfunctional democracy. Nicholas Ray’s emblematic Rebel Without a Cause bears a rhetorical title that references its cool prototype of the 1950’s teenage rebel played by James Dean, but of course the juvenile irreverence of this iconic rebel does have causes. It seemed fitting to allude to the title of this classic film in this essay because unlike the undisguised irony of the title of Ray’s film, the hypothesis here is that in Some Visitors there really is no cause, not for the rebels but for the killers. It is a perpetual cliche to observe in the American milieu an apologia for all that is happiness, fulfillment and prosperity; for that reason, the antagonistic relevance of the savage pessimism of this short film reverberates bravura as it adamantly stands against such naïve utopian readings of the human condition as if it were incorruptible. The concepts that Paul Hibbard, the director and screenwriter of this film, handles are more on a par with material verisimilitude, updated to the actual detrimental state in which the supposedly perfect Western society finds itself.
The narrative in its succinct minutes introduces and develops a series of dilemmas that debate about the nature of evil in human beings. Does it have an exogenous origin or is it endogenous? It is never answered; I repeat, it seems that the conjectural basis lies in the notion that there is no cause. Home invaders are a threat, before even initiating the plot there is a statistical prelude that mentions how the latter has become a recurrent problem in American homes. The cynicism that permeates this short film is palpable as it simultaneously establishes human vulnerability and human distrust in a matter of seconds. As opposed to the conventionality of the genre, here the home invasion factor is instrumental to the diversification of its acerbic commentary. Consequently, when we meet the apprehensive and anxious victim of the story, we understand that incredulity and skepticism regarding human goodness will conflict when the duplicitous, conniving killer knocks on the door to break into the domestic privacy of the home. Jennifer (Jackie Kelly) is aware of the horrifying cases of lunatics trespassing on private property and causing tragedies, and when she hears someone ring her doorbell, her paranoid instinct warns her to be extra cautious around the stranger. When she opens the door, a mysterious man named Jeff (Clayton Bury) with an insidious tone of voice asks her if she can help him because he has been in a car accident. She remains reluctant, not trusting this man, yet the parable of the Good Samaritan triumphs over reason and she lets the perfidious man into her home. All this unfolds in an ambiguous context, where both Jennifer and Jeff awaken sinister doubts in our emotional and intellectual judgment; moreover, the patient filmmaking system prefers verbosity as a preliminary to its insane violence extravaganza, in other words, the conversational method takes great command of the storytelling, making its façade a skillfully captious surface without revealing the monster it conceals very early on. Jennifer and Jeff end up in a hostile verbal exchange – though they are never aggressive as such, the subtext of the dialogue exudes an uncontainable fury that is impossible to ignore – she wants him to leave her home, yet he insists on the superfluous colloquy. It is in these sections that we discover the tragedy that overwhelms Jennifer with a paroxysm of nervousness and sorrow; Jeff seems to find the loss of her child a source of sarcasm. The simple mechanics alone sound absurd, but fundamentally this zigzagging use of dialogue does nothing but feed the misanthropy that parasitizes on the malevolence conjured up by each frame.
Violence erupts and everything purposefully succumbs to anarchy. In addition to Jeff, a woman and another masked man also violate Jennifer’s privacy. The onerous task the film leaves us with is to carry on our shoulders a dreadful realization: man is evil and not to be trusted. It is odd if not paradoxical that the thought-provoking thesis generalizes evil when we initially distrusted only Jeff’s nefarious actions and not those of Jennifer. However, the stratagem of the film is that in the end there is no redeemable and trustworthy human, it is a self-destructive but effective way of posing the philosophy of evil. It is natural to feel deeply pitied by the fragile and lamentable state of the victim, yet then you feel like an idiot when you discover that your magnanimity and benevolence have been betrayed, not by the filmmakers’ mercilessly intransigent misanthropy, but by the chimerical humanism that society sells you with demagoguery. By this I do not mean that the film fervently believes in an innate malice in the human species, but it does make you lose faith in it. Perhaps what we witness is more nihilism than misanthropy. Nevertheless, its statement leans more to the misanthropic abyss than to the antonyms of it. In the same manner, the thin minutes of this story admirably renounce many of the ideals that today I believe do nothing more than “trivialize evil”. In contemporary America there is an unfathomable fascination with seeking reasons for absolutely all our problems, there is a sociopolitical fetish that tenaciously goes in search of the causes and effects of the most gruesome cases of murder. For the criteria of the ruling structures, the decadence of a society has its genesis in the deficiency of integral educational and economic systems; be that as it may, the quest for systemic and not anthropocentric and philosophical explanations is an unpardonable institutional flaw. My assessment may sound exaggerated, but the directionality this film embraces is so uncompromising in its inhuman yet uncomfortably down-to-earth perspective on the conception of evil in our world that the ordinary home invasion movie cliché adopts the shape of a hard-hitting manifesto against the fallacious hopes of bureaucratic idealists who tell you that all is fine when the reality is dramatically the contrary.
The breathtakingly mean-spirited conclusion – an unpredictable plot twist that confirms Paul Hibbard’s gargantuan ambitions for wanting to make something more than just a home invasion movie – may be too dour in its cinematic extremism, but the faith the director and his team have in this material is so infectious and functional that the cruelty is appreciated as a bold and alarmingly necessary methodology. The result is cohesive filmmaking, frenetic performances – Clayton Bury and Jackie Kelly are a tour de force of dramatic duplicity – coherent technicalities and thrilling content that speaks volumes about Western society at its most delirious and compulsive. It’s an untamed horror flick that takes more risks than any other big-budget horror film; it’s no child’s play to pull off something this thematically corrosive and cinematically biting, and even more complex to pull it off in less than half an hour.