Review by Sean Boelman
In addition to its lineup of horror and genre cinema, the Overlook Film Festival usually showcases a couple of documentaries — often about topics related to the festival’s bread-and-butter. This year, Anthony Penta’s We Kill for Love hopes to appeal to genre cinephiles with its exploration of a once-glorious genre of film, and it feels tailor-made for this audience.
The documentary explores the unexpected rise and untimely demise of the direct-to-video erotic thriller genre, which peaked in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is an important (yet often forgotten) part of film history. These deep dive documentaries into cinematic history are great for cinephiles, but often struggle to succeed on a wider platform.
The factor that is likely to put most audiences off of We Kill for Love is its substantial length. Although a long documentary isn’t a bad thing — and this one earns its length with its depth — it does restrict the audience to a much more specific niche. At a little over two hours and forty minutes, the movie calls to mind other niche documentaries like In Search of Darkness.
Still, Penta works very hard to keep the audience’s attention through his filmmaking style, and it mostly works. Although the film is predominantly a combination of talking head interviews and clips from the movies being discussed, the way these portions are shot and edited is quite good. For example, the mood and ambiance in the interviews is very fitting, feeling like it is out of an erotic thriller itself.
As one would expect, much of the film has a very academic nature about it. For viewers who are cinephiles — especially those interested in some of the more obscure annals of cinematic history — the movie’s deep dive into the legacy and social context of the erotic thriller is sure to be fascinating, as Penta leaves absolutely no stone unturned.
That being said, there are also some really entertaining sequences in the film that engage with the quirks of the genre. For example, one scene explores how movies were often retitled in other territories, resulting in some humorous coincidences where totally unrelated movies were released with the same title or as part of a “franchise.” This is illustrated through a sequence that — while perhaps a bit too long — effectively utilizes VHS covers in a clever way.
If the film is missing something, it is that it doesn’t really give the audience clear people to root for. Although the breadth of interviewees that Penta was able to assemble for the movie was impressive, featuring many of the most prolific actors and filmmakers in the genre at the time, they feel more like they are commenting on the story, rather than being the subject of it.
We Kill for Love does exactly what it sets out to do quite well and very extensively. There are some unexpectedly fascinating things to be learned about this genre, and even some entertaining moments, but those who aren’t hardcore into film might struggle to connect.
We Kill for Love is screening at the 2023 Overlook Film Festival, which runs March 30-April 2 in New Orleans, LA.