Capturing the heady days of the 90s music scene before the industry imploded, Kill Your Friends batters the audience with razor-sharp dialogue, copious amounts of cocaine and soul-sucking vampiric characters while also possessing the best soundtrack since Trainspotting.
Thought Wolf of Wall Street was littered with amoral, corrupt, remorseless hedonists? Meet Steven Stelfox: he makes Jordan Belfort look like a humanitarian. The scabrous anti-hero of our tale, Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is an A&R man masking his disdain for music and his fellow human beings with a shark’s smile. Desperate to find the “next big thing” and secure a promotion at record label Unigram, he’s prepared to do literally anything to leap frog his rivals as head of A&R and continue his empty, sneering, hedonistic lifestyle.
It’s London, 1997 and - with the British music industry in rude health - the A&R team at Unigram Records are taking full advantage of the perks that come with the job. Casual sex, drugs and rock n’ roll are the order of the day. Based on John Niven’s anarchic and nasty novel of the same name, the dialogue is darkly comic and vile, with Stelfox’s narration in turns finding the audience wincing at his non-PC rants and laughing uncomfortably to the point a spell in the confessional would be recommended; “Thou shalt not laugh at disgusting, cruel piss-taking.” He’s not remotely likeable but in Hoult’s hands it’s bizarrely hard not to root for him at some points, despite the reprehensible lengths he goes to. As his best laid plans appear to come apart, Stelfox unravels, plumbing ever more extreme depths of depravity and cruelty and it’s a grubby hoot to witness, Hoult gamely scummy to the last.
Ably supported by the preternaturally talented Craig Roberts as a naive colleague who might just end up as soulless as his mentor, Edward Hogg as a tenacious police detective who harbours dreams of rock n’ roll stardom, James Cordon as a bumbling, idiotic A&R executive, Ed Skrein as a wide-boy band manager and Tom Riley as possibly the only decent human being of the bunch, it’s nonetheless very much Hoult’s film. Delivering misogynistic, racist, homophobic rants at a scatter-shot rate he is believably ruthless and Machiavellian in his acts.
As an exposé of the music industry there are some uncomfortably accurate moments of the scene at that time; as Britain revelled in its own self-importance, New Labour, Britpop and The Spice Girls, Cool Britannia was a gluttonous beast that was setting itself up to implode.
Director Owen Harris does wonders with a small budget, recreating the feel of the era, the adrenaline of live music and the communal feel of a great party - none of which does anything for the sociopathic, psychotic Stelfox. The soundtrack is second to none, naturally featuring the likes of Oasis, Blur and The Chemical Brothers at the pinnacle of their careers and power: it’s both warmly nostalgic and bittersweet to recall the fruitful music scene that had the whole country proudly united.
Darkly funny, shocking and possessing one of the funniest scenes of the year - involving an obnoxiously loud and talentless German techno star (a brilliantly scene stealing turn from Moritz Bleibtreu) - Kill Your Friends is an instant cult classic. Just remember to cleanse your soul after.