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IT'S NOT ME, IT'S YOU: Kill Your Lover sheds light on the ever-present and sometimes inescapable toxic relationship.

BY MO MOSHATY, May 16, 2024

In "Kill Your Lover", Dakota's breakup with toxic boyfriend Axel triggers his transformation into a monstrous, skin-melting creature capable of spreading the contagion of their decaying relationship.

 

Filmmakers Alix Austin and Keir Siewert are known for their boundary pushing body horror, and their new film raises the stakes with a heady mix of romance, vengeance and the disappearance of individuality in romantic relationships. 

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Mo Moshaty: In an age where there's no shortage of self-help or reflective social media posts where everyone is a narcissist or "if they wanted to they would", it's easy to turn inward and take stock of our relationships. Did the current state of that influence you to tackle this subject?

 

Alix Austin: People these days do love to categorise themselves. I think a lot of it is them trying to gain a better understanding of who they are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That being said, it often leaves little room for nuance, and the term ‘narcissist’ is definitely overused - where maybe ‘emotionally immature’ is more often the answer. In many ways Kill Your Lover is the antithesis of the trends: it gets into the nitty gritty. It isn’t black and white. It’s about a death by a thousand cuts - you can’t put your finger on the one thing that led to the decay of your relationship, it’s just rotted.


That’s why we didn’t want to make it about one major incident of one person cheating on the other. It’s more about how two individuals are responsible for nurturing each other and the relationship, lest it become a monster.

MM: There's definitely going to be some Team Dakota/Team Axel vibes after viewing: what can you say about each of their perspectives?

Keir Siewert: I would say I certainly identify more with Dakota. I think there was an interesting push and pull in the writing of the characters where at times I would become too sympathetic to Dakota’s side and Alix would push back on it, saying we had to make Dakota more flawed.


I think she embodies the struggle creatives often have when in a relationship with a partner who occupies a more traditional job and also lives a more conventional life. The priorities that she has are just not going to make sense to someone who prizes stability and security. Ultimately they are two very different people and that’s what lies at the heart of their conflict
and why Alix and I perceive them as somewhat doomed from the beginning.

AA: No-one is perfect, but Axel strives to get as close to perfect as possible. As a result, he puts himself under a lot of pressure - but that can spill over into wanting to ‘better’ others, whether it’s welcome or not. I empathise with Axel quite a bit, because he struggles with not being in control of himself. He wants to be cool and artistic, which is why Dakota is alluring to him as she represents a lot of what he aspires to be. Letting go is scary for him, because he’s not sure he’s found
someone he can trust to pull their weight in the relationship.

MM: Kill Your Lover truly demonstrates the emotional labor and disproportionate percentage of "being present" in interpersonal relationships. It also pokes at emotional manipulation with a sharp stick. What was the preparation for showcasing a 
controlling or mentally abusive relationship?

AA: We had already done some research in a previous project PORTRAIT, dealing with coercion and manipulation in the photography industries. The short film was based on 21 interviews we conducted with models about their experiences.
So we already had some experience to build on, as well as my own personal experiences as an actress.

 

More relevantly though, both Keir and I have unfortunately witnessed far too many manipulative relationships our friends have been in from afar. It can be frustrating, because you desperately want to help. All you can really do is be supportive with some occasional real talk, but you also know that your friend also has to ‘wake up’ themselves in order for real change to happen.

MM: Could you speak to us about working with an intimacy coordinator on this film? (Also, thank you, thank you, thank you for that!)

AA: This was our first film working with an Intimacy Coordinator - and the experience made it clear as day how beneficial it is for not only the actors, but also the entire crew. We made the budget work around our circumstances, so we needed to limit ourselves to one shooting day. For this reason, Keir and I painstakingly prepped for the day, so that everyone was on the samepage.

We created a document for our ‘6 scenarios’, so that the intention behind each one was clear - and also provided examples from other films for the actors overview. The actors had modesty coverings on and we choreographed each scenario beforehand. We purposefully let everyone know that we would do a maximum of 3 takes on each scenario, that way
the actors (and crew!) could give it their all and had their best interests at heart.

We also shot with 2 cameras to maximise each of the 3 takes and cut down on time needed. Everyone brought their A game and it felt very focussed. Huge thanks to Jamila Wingett for her outstanding work on the day (especially given that it was 44
degrees celsius in London that shooting day!).

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Paige Gilmour - Kill Your Lover - Switchblade Cinema (2023)

MM: The body horror of this film is such an exquisite metaphor for forcing ourselves to "uglify" our partners in any shape or form to make it easier to leave. What inspired the design of Axel' transformation?

KS: The original conception of Axel was more like a zombie. He was a mindless aggressive creature that Dakota had to fight off. But as we developed the idea, we were more interested in keeping Axel conscious and mostly human. So through the make-up, we wanted to retain the recognizable human quality and were inspired by the Stephen King short story “Gray
Matter”.

 

In this the character becomes bloated and translucent - but that wasn’t the most practical look and it didn’t make a lot of sense for how physically demanding the role in our film was going to be. So we adapted it the ideas and inspirations to take a new shape. The black veins came from the idea of rot and decay - the idea that something is being poisoned and being taken over.

 

To our minds, Axel is being poisoned from the inside out by his infected heart, in denial of how rotten his relationship with Dakota has become.

 

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Paige Gilmour and Shane Quigley-Murphy - Kill Your Lover - Switchblade Cinema (2023)

"Keir and I have unfortunately witnessed far too many manipulative relationships our friends have been in from afar.  All you can really do is be supportive with some occasional real talk, but you also know that your friend also has to ‘wake up’ themselves in order for real change to happen."

MM: As partners and professional team, is there anything on screen that was difficult for you to work through with Kill Your Lover, and was there a catharsis? Is there a personal allegory to it or is it just a story?

KS: I think there’s inevitably a bit of truth in all art. I think when you’ve been together for over 11 years (married 8) - you learn that over time we all slowly grow into different people. You just hope that as a couple - you grow together. I’d say the majority of the relationship problems in KYL are inspired by what we’ve seen in other people’s bad relationships.


However, there are 100% elements of Axel and Dakota’s dynamics that are a funhouse mirror of Alix and I’s relationship. So there’s definitely a catharsis to looking at a relationship that doesn’t work and appreciating how you’ve managed to avoid some of the pitfalls.

 

There are also a lot of fun little quirks and details that are taken from our relationship. Some are direct quotes or private jokes, which we used to give this fictional relationship texture…but we’ll leave it to your imagination which ones are ours.

MM: What's next for Switchblade Cinema?

KS:  We currently have two projects we’re getting off the ground. One is a werewolf movie that we’re describing as “CRANK", if it was a werewolf movie.” We were really inspired by the 1983 Austrian Film ANGST which we saw a repertory screening of at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival last year. It’s going to be a wild ride!


The other is another body horror movie, a spiritual successor to Kill Your Lover if you will. It’s about a pregnant woman who becomes possessed by her unborn baby and massacres everyone at her baby shower. It’s a bit like if the characters from BODIES, BODIES, BODIES were in an EVIL DEAD movie. Basically, we’re continuing to keep it gory and intense!

MM: Something I ask every filmmaker, as we can get super desensitized to horrible things - what mundane thing terrifies you?

KS: I really hate baked beans. I hate the smell, the look and basically everything about them. I can’t eat anything they’ve touched. If we’re at brunch and Alix gets them on the side, she’ll hide them behind a menu or a mug so I don’t have to look at them.

AA: I guess the word would more be ‘horrify’ than terrify, but I have annoyingly become increasingly allergic to certain types of sounds. The one that seems to reign supreme is crisps: crisp packets or loud crisp munching (especially open-mouthed) just sends me in a really bad way. I try not to be an asshole about it though, so I spend a fair amount of time
with noise cancelling headphones on as a result.

KILL YOUR LOVER WILL BE RELEASED ON VOD IN NORTH AMERICA BY DARK SKY FILMS ON JUNE 7TH 2024

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Alix Austin & Keir Siewert are London based writer-directors.

Their debut feature Kill Your Lover celebrated its World Premiere at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and is currently touring.

Their body horror shorts Retch and Sucker are multiple award-winning, having screened at festivals such as Screamfest LA, FrightFest and BIFFF, with Sucker premiering on SHUDDER.

Tense Drama short Portrait won 7 Best Film awards, including BIFA-qualifying KINO London Short Film Festival.

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