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KILLING THE EUNUCH KHAN

(The 2022 Slamdance Film Festival ran January 27-February 6, all virtually. Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Killing the Eunuch KhanLike what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

“The serial killer uses the victims to kill victims and kills the victims using the victims and kills the victims using the victims.” So opens Iranian director Abed Abest’s visual stunner of a movie, Killing the Eunuch Khan, the words impressed in vivid red on a black screen (my underlining a substitute for the larger text used for the repetition). Set during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, the film offers images of striking beauty, the exact compositions and expressive production design plunging the viewer into a frenzied maelstrom of thought and emotion. What results is a nearly hallucinatory experience, meaning dissolving inside impression, text and subtext one and the same—and each equally cryptic—a cinematic abstraction to rattle your brain in the best way possible. If we are but victims of a homicidal murderer, at least we can go out in a blaze of creative glory.

Precision is the name of the frame game here, Abest (Simulation) and his cinematographer, Hamid Khozouie Abyane (also Simulation), capturing every moment with a lens that demands full attention. From the very first shots of the evocative urban landscape in which the protagonists’ incongruous mansion sits, we are hooked. War? Bombs? Killers? It almost doesn’t matter, for our eyes feast ravenously on a lavish multi-course meal, prepared by a highly skilled control-freak of a chef.

The story, such as I can discern, revolves around a father and his two daughters, residents of the aforementioned abode. A tender threesome (mom is nowhere in sight), their lives are uprooted after Iraqi planes enter the airspace above, a misfired bomb destroying the domestic idyll. In a sequence redolent of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining (and then outdoing it), blood streams down the walls, pouring out of the house and onto the surrounding grounds, filling a large crater outside. Death takes its toll, and the evidence is everywhere.

Imagine Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s landmark masterpiece The Man with a Movie Camera married to the works of Italian giallo auteur Dario Argento (Suspiria), with a dash of time-travel plot folding in on itself, and you’ll have a grasp of some of the style here. That’s but a fraction of the whole, however, much to the cinephile’s delight. As the dramatic details and timelines intersect, bifurcate, and then diverge, the seemingly inchoate magnificence becomes its own unique statement of purpose. It exists because to do otherwise would make even less sense.

There are characters, and there are spoken details. After the bombing, sinister figures seek to understand cause and effect. Secret agents act to prevent further attacks. Those believed assassinated reappear as older incarnations of themselves. Green-screen objects are left out in the open, further fracturing our sense of reality. Simultaneously mesmerized and confused, we watch on. Perhaps I am still lost in the movie. Or maybe I’m the killer, my gaze more than merely complicit. I’ll take it all, and order another, please.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2022 Slamdance Film Festival; Abed Abest; Killing the Eunuch Khan movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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