10900152_416954838462960_1183387335582272349_oThere are a hundred different ways a film can play out the psychopath angle. From monsters like Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, all the way to frenetic and bloodthirsty couples like Natural Born Killers’ infamous Mickey and Mallory Knox, audiences have seen a lot of variations on the unhinged archetype. That being said, it’s sometimes difficult to watch a film about murderers and not wonder if it’s going to take us somewhere we’ve been before.

This is where The Divine Tragedies, written and directed by Jose Prendes, defies expectation. Because at first, I thought I was going to be served up another platter of Patrick Bateman/Hannibal Lecter wannabes that liked to wax-poetic as they got down and bloody. However, as the film unfolded, I realized I’d been tricked, lured into a false sense of “I’ve seen this before,” only to find out that I was dead wrong.

Thomas (Jon Kondelik) and Charles (Graham Denman) are half-brothers living under the thumb of their mother (Barbara Crampton). Mother favors Charles. She allows him to take care of her, while keeping Thomas at a distance. Regardless of this broken familial triangle, though, Thomas and Charles still do everything together. They go to the movies; they eat at the same restaurant; they force hard-up tweakers to choose between their fingers or a large bag of drugs—you know, the usual brother stuff.

However, it is in the moments of undiluted cruelty that the brothers fully bond and eventually lead to Thomas suggesting they kill someone. The only caveat is that they have to be the perfect victim. After a botched attempt to make a prostitute “the one,” the brothers set their sights on a less hardened and more innocent target, a decision that will leave their already unstable family in ruins.

What I loved about the film is that where most filmmakers would focus on the brothers trying to commit the perfect murder, Prendes delves more into the psychology of what happens after the murder. Thomas, the dominant one that pushed to find a chosen lamb retreats into a world of regret and booze, while Charles, previously the more shy of the two, becomes enamored with his new sense of insane self-discovery. And what makes these role reversals work, in my opinion, is the strength of the performances. To see Klondelike bring Thomas from the icy sociopath that berates hookers to a vulnerable haunted young man floored me—especially in the scene where Thomas interrogates his mother about her calloused attitude toward him and his father’s history.

Meanwhile, Graham Denman’s portrayal of Charles after the murder succeeds where a lot of other over-the-top psycho roles fail: I still felt for Charles. Even in his worst moments we catch glimpses of the sweet man he could have been. Yes, Charles loses himself in his own psychosis, but Denman doesn’t play it so cold that we feel like we’re watching a blubbering madman. Quite the opposite, I felt bad for Charles in the same way you feel bad for someone you know has a good heart, but continues to spiral out of control. This is great because when we see Charles break down after realizing the walls are finally closing in, Denman makes us feel that regret. Not in words, but through pained expression and body language—it was mentioned during the Q and A at Shriekfest that Denman’s performance echoed Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M and I one-hundred percent agree with that sentiment.

The film also has excellent imagery. The further Thomas and Charles descend into their separate worlds, the stranger the visuals become. When Charles is brutalizing their victim we see her reach out to the newbie killer and smile, surrounded by a vibrant glow. Considering how grotesque she looks by this point it goes to show just how delusional Charles is, and gives the audience the opportunity to step into his malformed reality

There is also a really great moment where Thomas wakes up in his room to find a very unwanted visitor. What follows is a nail-biting chase scene through the house that’s saturated in vivid blues and reds that reflect the personal hell Thomas has been wallowing in.

Divine

Overall, I highly recommend this film for anyone that wants to see a fresh take on killers, as well as two very hard-hitting performances—or, if you just want to see Ken Foree as a psychic cop, it has that, too. You might think you’ve seen the landscape of this film before, but you haven’t. Trust me. The road may look the same, but all the stops on this doomed drive into depravity are much different.

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