Teen sexual exploration and the coming-of-age tale are first-feature cliches, but such is the range of human experience (and art) that there’s always room for a new vision to make that familiar territory seem fresh. The Brazilian film “Kill Me Please” offers a bracingly distinctive turn on those well-worn themes by chronicling a group of adolescent girls’ hormonally restless summer during a wave of murders in their West Zone neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Anita Rocha da Silveira’s arresting debut feature captures the queasy mix of desire and fear among kids who are sexually inexperienced, yet can think of little else. Pop kitsch, social satire, dreamy narrative unreliability and retro giallo-thriller vibes further flavor a movie at once bold and cryptic. Likely to incite strong if uneven critical response (as well as sales interest), it certainly marks its director as a talent to watch.
Still in school during the onerous heat of the season, our 15-year-old heroines run in a pack: There’s central protagonist Bia (Valentina Herszage), gossipy Michele (Julia Roliz), flirtatious Mariana (Mariana Oliveira) and slightly overweight, insecure Renata (Dora Freind). They all live in nearby apartment blocks, where Bia’s older brother Joao (Bernardo Marinho) is nearly always at home — though their mother almost never is. (Indeed, adults are nowhere to be seen in this film’s exclusively teenaged psychological and social universe, with even teachers kept off-screen.)
The usual adolescent fascination with all things sexual and/or icky is in collective hyperdrive at present, because their own Barra da Tijuca district is being plagued by murders — young women being found stabbed and/or strangled to death in the open fields between major roads and the massive apartment complexes. Police are as yet uncertain whether there’s one killer or more. That lack of known suspects or other intel feeds into the kind of thrilled, paranoid urban-mythologizing that impressionable minds (especially Michele, who repeats and embellishes every tall tale she hears) thrive on.
Such morbid fascination runs especially high for Bia, only heightening the ardor of her makeout sessions with boyfriend Pedro (Vitor Mayer). He, by contrast, is made contrite by the mood of lurid violence; he feels guilt-stricken each time after they suck face, embracing a Christian youth ministry (rather hilariously portrayed in a bombshell leader’s disco-soundtracked exhortations that everybody “kick it for Jesus!!”) that Bia barely tolerates. Their differing paths eventually cause a rift. Meanwhile, Mariana lays siege to crush object Joao, who’s obsessed with a girlfriend who hasn’t returned his calls in weeks — and who is just secretive enough to be a possible slaying suspect. But then, everyone here seems to be getting more temperamentally reckless (and accident- or fight-prone) as the bodies pile up.
Disdaining any conventional murder-mystery satisfactions, “Kill Me Please” ends with a striking image that underlines how its use of serial-killer horror tropes is meant to be taken less literally than metaphorically. The film itself occupies a fever state of mercurial adolescent emotions and curiosities, propelled by the urgent romantic yearnings of dance-pop lyrics, dreamlike narrative ellipses and a sinister sensuality that extends even to the views of mangled corpses. Yet unlike the standard slasher template, there’s no air of misogynist exploitation here. Da Silveira’s view of developing female sexuality eschews any sense of simple, titillating victimhood for a mindset in which girls’ imaginations and actions can be just as aggressive (both erotically and otherwise) as any boys’.
That internal volatility, as well as a generous streak of humor, allows “Kill Me” to get away with a lot of outré tactics, from periodically having the protagonists simply stare at the camera (perhaps standing in for a mirror) to a spontaneous playground dance number. It also sustains the movie beyond its midpoint peak of a princessy classmate’s birthday party at which all macabre, campy and standard teen-flick elements collide in a perfect storm of controlled excess.
Da Silveira demonstrates masterful control over a complicated tonal and aesthetic palette, boasting fine contributions from all her collaborators, with visual and sonic elements equally highly worked.