The Killing of Two Lovers is a domestic drama, which aims at exploring a collapsed marriage that also holds the mood and atmosphere of a slow-burn thriller. Now showing in limited theaters and VOD after playing at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, The Killing of Two Lovers has the lurking feel of a horror movie, almost like a John Cassavetes movie that merges chills with the psychological. Every element about this small indie movie is well crafted and engaging: the writing, the raw performances, and especially the observational directing that consists of mostly long takes and wide shots with very slow push ins and dolly shots. For a movie that’s running time is only 86 mins, it holds an impact even with an ending that bounces between ambiguity, unearned, and even hopeful.
The format chosen The Killing of Two Lovers is that of a domestic drama that holds melodrama and some thriller tropes, you can sense the writer and director Robert Machoian is a champion of Stanley Kubrick as he uses a lot of wide shots and balanced frames with a screeching sound design to capture the protagonists fractured livelihood and mind state. The story is a familiar tale of a troubled married couple who are separating and are on opposite sides of what they want out of their failing marriage. While always calling for a level of intrigue with some uncertain suspense and a looming violence that feels like it’s just ready to implode. On a commending note on Machoain’s note, the film strays away from ever feeling too shallow and routine due to it’s pure tension building, brooding tone, some earned pathos, and elegant craft.
A nerve wrecking and quiet film that also holds some elegance that recalls the work of Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children), the film feels you’re trapped in limbo as the camera survey’s a Utah construction worker and father David (Clayne Crawford) who is separated from his wife, lives at home with his dad, who is also trying his very best in getting his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) and four children back. David is certainly flawed, has anger issues, and is very tormented. He avoids being a deadbeat father as he prevents himself from slipping into drugs, alcoholism, or getting with other women to ease his alienation. While it might take a while to adjust to the film’s earthiness and contradictory style as it opens and closes on a note you don’t fully anticipate. All around, The Killing of Two Lovers is certainly a director’s movie. Machoian has mostly been a creator of short films and documentaries, and has been on the independent film festival circuit for well over 10 years, his sophomore feature feels like the work of a rising filmmaker that holds a lot of potential with his style and skill.
Deeply metaphorical as well, the failing marriage does a lot of damage to David’s manhood, we even see a recurring motif in the film of an armless male mannequin that Ryan often punches and uses as a target to shoot his gun at as a reflection of fading manhood that consists of of Nikki having a new boyfriend (Chris Coy), and his daughter Jess (Avery Pitzzuto) who holds a lot of resentment towards David for moving out of the house. One of the best scenes in the film is where David takes his kids out to the park as they launch some play rockets into the air and Jess gets frustrated towards her father once the rocket doesn’t ignite. This reflects the tension bottled up inside everyone involved. It’s a truly unforgettable scene that is staged with perfection.
So much could be read about the issues of manhood, masculinity, and how dependent men gain reassurance from women, and since David begins to become more fragile and vulnerable the deeper his marriage falls apart, David is left in contemplating his marriage and trying to compromise and even standing strong on certain aspects that come off inconsiderate from Nikki. The Killing of Two Lovers could have easily turned into a routine psychological thriller that could have turned David as the “monster father and husband,” focusing on his demise as a plot mechanism to appease routine genre trappings. While tormented and indeed enduring mental breakdowns, the film instead encourages both David and Nikki’s flaws and complexities and to think about fragile marriages and how it’s perceived by the spouses.
While the final few scenes feels hopeful and relieving, it feels like the film is missing a few frames scenes up until then. Without spoiling anything, David, Nikki, and Derek have a confrontation outside of the house as David waits for the kids. It’s a very brutal and intense scene that holds so much tension, the final scene while more hopeful feels a slight hurried and perhaps even unearned. Despite this quibble, The Killing of Two Lovers is a singular film in many aspects, the film is very haunting and raw that pulls a lot of emotional power from the hard boiled emotions that is interspersed along this riveting, woozy, and complex journey.