Sunday, July 1, 2018

Killer Ending (Booking Production/Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” was a truly weird film called Killer Ending, yet another movie in which an author is the victim of either a mad stalker or a mad fan or a mad best friend or a … well, in this case it’s all of the above. Written and directed by Christie Will Wolf (which led me to joke early on, when one of the characters said, “You know what happens when you cry ‘Wolf’?,” and I replied, “Yes, the director of this movie comes!”) — at least that’s how it’s listed on the film’s page, though I dimly recall another author being credited as co-writer on the script — Killer Ending is an oddball production in which it seems like virtually everyone else in her life is out to get prominent mystery and true crime writer Agatha Sayers (Emmanuelle Vaugier). When I first heard the character name — an obvious mashup of the real-life 20th Century British mystery writers Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers — I went, “Oh, no,” wondering if the lack of imagination Wolf and her collaborator had shown in naming their central character would carry through to the rest of their script. Yes and no: Killer Ending is one of those films that really can’t be called original — as I’ve written before about movies like this, I get the impression that the script was less written than compiled — but does achieve a sort of camp entertainment value by the sheer multiplicity of the clichés it taps and the unwitting surrealism of their juxtaposition. The most fascinating thing about Killer Ending is that so many people are stalking or otherwise invidiously invading Agatha Sayers’ life it’s hard to keep track of them all (and it’s hard to imagine how Wolf kept track of them all!). In the opening scene she’s typing away on a laptop, writing her new book, a sequel to her hit novel Apollo’s Arrow, while at the same time her daughter Sarah Sayers (Kayla Wallace) is being kidnapped by a hoodied stranger who comes to her house with a vase of yellow roses — a symbol of death from one of mom’s books — and, when she opens the door, overpowers her and takes her away. I had thought this was a marvelous satire of how writers get so wrapped up in their work that they can ignore any distraction, including the sounds of a kidnapping going on in the same house, until about a third of the way through the film, when the cops investigate the crime scene and Wolf finally made it clear this was not the same house: mom was working on her book at her own home while her daughter was being kidnapped in the very similar residence she was living in while she had gone away to college (the improbably named “Georgia Blue University,” supposedly in Seattle, though it was actually Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada).

In addition to her mystery kidnapper, Sarah Sayers is being stalked by Harmon Gillette (Woody Jeffreys), a middle-aged and rather seedy guy who got thrown out of Georgia Blue as a student 20 years earlier but has contacted her by claiming to be her professor in an investigative journalism class — only when mom checks with the school she finds out there is no “Professor Harmon” working there and they don’t even have a journalism department, much less an investigative journalism class. When he isn’t stalking Sarah Sayers he’s stalking her mom, secretly photographing her and the people around her and posting his pictures all over his walls in one of the classic ways moviemakers depict sick and alienated people. Agatha Sayers is also broke, thanks to her business manager, Max Finkel (Trevor Lerner), who’s embezzled all her money and forced her to self-publish the book she’s working on now as well as threatening to sue him. In the midst of all this maelstrom, Agatha is almost literally picked up at a book signing by Caroline Villos (Chelsea Hobbs), a woman with platinum-blonde hair and a forward manner who offers to become her assistant, helping her edit the book and also running errands for her in her personal life. The moment that happens, anyone with a familiarity with previous Lifetime movies (especially The Perfect … series written by Christine Conradt) knows what’s going to happen: the seemingly “perfect” assistant is going to turn out to be the stalker from hell, using her access to the computer file containing Agatha’s manuscript to alter it and commit crimes based on what Agatha is writing. It’s established that Caroline is an aspiring writer herself and is also a whiz with a bow and arrow (one might, if your imagination is properly demented, imagine this as the next episode in The Hunger Games, in which Katniss Everdeen gets dumped into our own time and goes really off the wall), which she uses to kill Max Finkel a third of the way through the story. Oh, did I mention that Agatha Sayers had an abusive husband until a year before the major action, when he mysteriously died in an auto accident, only he left behind the bow and arrow Caroline used to kill Max and also left behind some old clothes Agatha wanted her to throw out, only she kept one of the jackets and wore it herself? Sorry.

What’s more, when the police finally get around to investigating Sarah’s kidnapping (ya remember Sarah’s kidnapping?) the detectives they assign to the case are Roger Smith (Giles Panton), who was having an affair with Agatha while her husband was still alive and for a brief time after his death; and Emily Spector (Nicole Anthony), who has a decidedly unrequited crush on her partner but who’s also the object of a Lesbian cruise from Caroline, who proves her polymorphous perversity by also going after Roger and seducing Jack (Myles Montpetit), the age-peer boyfriend of Sarah until she caught him having sex with someone else and Agatha responded by paying him to leave Sarah alone with cash police find in his home — in an evidence envelope — when Caroline pays Jack a visit, gets him all hot and bothered by sitting on top of him while he’s in bed, then apparently wallops him with an arrow before strangling him and then shooting him with the arrow (we can tell that’s probably what happened, though director Wolf doesn’t show the actual murder, because though the police find Jack with an arrow stuck through his chest there’s no sign of blood around the wound). Agatha realizes that whoever is committing the crimes is following the manuscript of her new book as she’s writing it, and rejecting the advice of her ex-boyfriend Detective Roger Smith that she not put her daughter into further peril by writing more, she insists on adding to the manuscript, telling the killer that her fictitious kidnapper is about to move his victim to an abandoned warehouse so the real kidnapper will do the same and the police can flush him out.

It turns out not only that Caroline is the brains behind all the villainy, the kidnapper is her baby-faced son Stephen (Jared Ager-Foster), who was conceived as a result of Caroline’s own father molesting her when she was just 13, and he’s doing all this to further her mom’s plot to kill Agatha and steal her identity. It all comes to a climax in what looks like a non-abandoned industrial building, a factory rather than a warehouse, and Agatha goes there because the bad girl has sent her a text that she can find Sarah there — the cops, who are monitoring the action by reading the manuscript on their computer and also by the live feeds with which the kidnapper is cutting into local news broadcasts to show Sarah’s plight in real time, also arrive and Detective Smith arrests Caroline, only she leaves her alone with Detective Spector, who, apparently doing the Lesbian equivalent of thinking with your dick, is persuaded by Caroline that Detective Smith really murdered Agatha’s husband the year before and he’s committed all the newer crimes to cover it up. Then director Wolf cuts to a scene and a title reading “Nine Months Later,” and nine months later Caroline Villos is at a book signing for her new mystery novel, Do or Die, only now she has black hair and wears the same sort of glasses Agatha did — only it turned out, thanks to a deus ex machina appearance by Harmon Gillette (ya remember Harmon Gillette?), that Detective Smith caught on to what was really happening, Caroline escaped but was apprehended later, and both she and Stephen are in mental hospitals and likely to remain there for the rest of their lives — while the scene we saw of Caroline doing a book signing is simply a representation of one of her delusions.

Through much of Killer Ending I couldn’t help but think of how much more director Marc Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm got out of this basic premise in their 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction, which starred Will Ferrell as an IRS auditor who suddenly stars hearing a voice in his head narrating his life as it’s going on, and eventually realizes that the narrative is being written by reclusive novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who’s writing his life story as her new book and who plans to kill his character off at the end of the novel — which means he will die for real unless he can track her down and persuade her to change her ending. Charles and I screened this movie when it first came out on DVD and I wrote an enthusiastic review on which I headlined, “Who would ever have thought Will Ferrell would be in a masterpiece?” Though Stranger Than Fiction had a frankly supernatural element in its plot which Killer Ending avoided, Forster’s film just seems richer, warmer, more human and more “real” than Wolf’s. Like a lot of other Lifetime writers, Wolf just piled on the melodrama as she went, creating admirable suspense over just who of the apparently malevolent people in Agatha’s life are actually sympathetic and which ones are really out to get her but also making her plot line almost unbearably confusing.