Director: Kieran Evans
Stars: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, Stephen Walters, William Ruane, Claire Keelan, Michael Ryan, Sean Mason
Running time: 90 minutes
Less that 24 hours before seeing Kelly + Victor, I was completely won over by the dark yet sweet romance in The Spectacular Now, leaving Austin's Topfer Theatre on a feel-good high. Which, as it turns out, was the worst way to walk into the Stateside Theatre for an early morning screening of Irish filmmaker Kieran Evans' downbeat, emotionally punishing Kelly + Victor.
Yes, the L-word is in the air throughout Evans' adaptation of author Niall Griffiths novel, but so are bondage, abuse, heartaches, and fatality. Kelly + Victor leaves you reeling, stunned by how viscerally it handles tainted love and invigorated by how well put together it is on all fronts. It's the Requiem for a Dream of on-screen romances.
Anchored by two exceptional lead performances, Kelly + Victor depicts the ways in which suddenly getting smitten by someone can be as harmful as it is empowering. The title characters—played by the fragile, uneasily enchanting Antonia Campbell-Hughes and the charismatic Julian Morris—are lost souls drifting around the streets of Liverpool, searching for connections that'll provide their demoralizing daily routines with some meaning. Victor works a crap construction job and hangs around with a crew of deadbeat, drug-pushing friends; Kelly has an unhealthy relationship with her mother, a persuasive prostitute for a best friend, and an ex-boyfriend who's fresh out of jail and prone to disobeying the restraining order she's put into action. Randomly, inside a nightclub, Victor catches Kelly's eye, they dance, kiss, and then head back to her apartment for rounds of intense sex.
Victor soon learns that Kelly's bedroom habits aren't very innocent: She gets off on choking men as she rides them. And Victor, feeling the excitement from her hands around his neck that's otherwise absent to him, likes it. A few positive, heartwarming dates later, they're back underneath the sheets, but Kelly's kink gets out of control, waking Victor up to the fact that she might not be the ideal partner.
Evans shoots the film's toughest scenes—of which there are plenty, some that rival anything you'd find on our list of the 50 most disturbing movies—with an in-your-face bluntness that's assaults and mesmerizes. Kelly + Victor is a thing of beautiful dread, a symphony of sadness that leaves you wishing you could jump into the screen and save either one, or both, of the protagonists—a testament to Campbell-Hughes and Morris—from themselves.
You can't, of course, and Evans' devastating film makes you suffer for that. The distress, although difficult to stomach, is profound.