It would be easy to dismiss Killer Queen as a gimmick of sorts. The film premiered in 2019, but it looks like it would’ve been screened in grindhouse theaters 45 years ago.
While shooting on 8mm film may feel like a parlor trick to some viewers, the aesthetic choice here is likely what enabled first-time filmmaker Ramin Fahrenheit to capture his vision in the first place. After all, cheap cameras and old-school film stock are like power chords for punk cinema.
There’s a reason why Fahrenheit didn’t choose to shoot on an iPhone, though. His directorial sensibilities are right at home with the 70s ambiance captured in his film. Killer Queen doesn’t just look retro, it feels retro. A grimy mood piece elevated by a propulsive score and deceptively impressive cinematography in spite of its narrative shortcomings.
The story itself is a simple one chopped up into complexity. A young woman (credited only as “Girl”), saddened by the suicide of her friend and what feels like a general aimlessness, is driven to murder, gathering victims at random—with the help of her new friend, “Boy”—before attempting to flee the city.
The complexity comes with the presentation. Fahrenheit (who plays the Boy character alongside lead actress Fatima Maziani) has taken a straight-forward story and strewn the puzzle pieces across the table, stringing certain segments together but leaning into a nonlinear framework overall. This will come across as frustrating for some viewers, but it’s a structural choice that feels reflective of Girl’s scatter-brained motivation behind her new homicidal endeavors.
This isn’t the sort of film you watch for a tidy three acts, though. It’s also not the sort of film that props itself up by its performances. Maziani is good as the titular murderess, but the supporting players are seemingly there to give her something to do; some of the dialogue feels purposefully stilted, even intentionally overdubbed for the charming cheapness of yesteryear.
That said, Killer Queen is the sort of film that gets by on its visual palette. Yes, as a low-budget affair, the practical gore is limited to just a handful of scenes, and there’s nothing in the way of noteworthy special effects. If you’ll forgive the pun, though there is a bit of gunpowder, you won’t find any dynamite or laser beams here. But the film is well-shot in spite of its surface-level cheapness, and there are a few moments (including one with butterflies) that are rather memorable.
What seems to be the most highly praised element of the film, and for good reason, is Norman Orenstein’s score. His seamless blend of jazz drumming with synth hooks stays with you after the credits have rolled, and his compositions give a distinct pulse to what could’ve been rather forgettable moments.
Killer Queen is a worthwhile piece of throwback filmmaking on its own, but it has even more merit as a calling card for Fahrenheit as a director to watch—especially considering he also wrote, shot, edited, and performed in the film. Perhaps it’s because they share a homeland in Canada (and what would’ve been around the same era), but Killer Queen feels reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s first two films, his experimental work before he dove headfirst into body horror. Who’s to say how much blood and guts will be in Fahrenheit’s future, but he’s got potential that deserves a bigger budget.
Killer Queen screened as part of the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, or any of the other films in our upcoming CFF 2020 coverage, visit the Chattanooga Film Festival website (U.S. residents only).
[CFF 2020] ‘Killer Queen’ Channels the Grindhouse Era Through Lo-Fi Sensibilities
Thanks to his old-school sensibilities and shooting on actual 8mm film, Fahrenheit’s debut feature ‘Killer Queen’ is a promising calling card.