Studio: High Octane Pictures
Director: Bernie Rao
Writer: Bernie Rao
Producer: Bernie Rao
Stars: Piimio Mei, Nathalie Morris, Jim Baltaxe, Jed Brophy, Angelica Thomas, Stacey King, James Cain, Jordan Rivers, Sean Fleming, Hamish Boyle, Sarah Munn, Harley Neville, Grant Kereama
Two detectives and a former rabbi investigate the strange case of a demonically possessed, murderous reclining chair seemingly obsessed with an alluring dancer.
The tired term “critic-proof” isn’t only overused. It’s also pretty stupid. But by Crom, if there was every a film that can be considered truly immune to any rationally thought out, logically applied criticism, it’s “Killer Sofa.” The movie marches so confidently to the beat of its own devil-may-care drum that usual eye-rollers like amateur acting and nonsensical plot points are merely more feathers in a crazily captivating cap adorning a fascinating freak show of a film.
I don’t know anything about writer, director, producer, and cinematographer Bernie Rao aside from what IMDb tells me. According to those credits, “Killer Sofa,” which was originally titled “My Lover, My Lazy Boy,” appears to be Rao’s only released feature. However, Rao has no less than 60 shorts to his name, nearly half of which were produced in a two-year span between 2016-2018.
Quite frankly, I don’t want to learn anything else about Rao as it might falsify the incredible impression of him I’ve conjured in my mind. Based on the wild weirdness of “Killer Sofa” and his prolific output of experimental projects presumably few people have seen, I’m picturing a fringe filmmaker with the Euro-cowboy stylistic sense of “The Human Centipede’s” Tom Six and the adorable obliviousness to awfulness of “Troll 2” director Claudio Fragasso. Yet Rao also aspires to combine the artistic ambition of David Lynch with the attitudinal irreverence of Quentin Dupieux under the umbrella of a B-movie budget that could barely fund a straight-to-video “Puppet Master” sequel. Basically, I’m picturing an admirably wacko auteur operating unsupervised in a cobwebbed corner of underground cinema. Going off of what “Killer Sofa” delivers, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I realize I dropped a number of names in the previous paragraph. Here’s a few more: Bob Gravy, Roseanne Grape, Tohunga Makutu, and Jack. Those are all characters in “Killer Sofa,” the first two being police inspectors, so you’re getting a taste of the peculiar page the movie wants its audience on.
In keeping with the film’s complete disregard for fitting into neat little boxes and following regular rules, the killer sofa in “Killer Sofa” isn’t even a couch. The basic logline, if you absolutely must know even though it’s arguably irrelevant, concerns a murderous La-Z-Boy recliner possessed by a Jewish dybbuk. A comment posted to an online trailer likened the psycho seat to a cousin of Chairy from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and indeed, that is exactly what it looks like.
Rather than summarize the story, it’s better to simply list off the smorgasbord of sideshow deformities packed into the plot and let your raised eyebrow wonder about the rest. In addition to two detectives, the killer recliner, and the inexplicably alluring dancer the chair appears obsessed with, we also get a disgraced rabbi who runs a furniture store, his hoodoo-practicing girlfriend, a wackadoodle internet expert on demonology, flashbacks to a woman’s 17th-century suicide, an occultist ex-boyfriend who has a veterinarian saw off his limbs, a man masturbating on a hat and bra laid out to look like a face, reincarnation, witchcraft, and a mother accidentally discovering her son’s mutilated remains by sucking them into her vacuum. If that weren’t enough, the film hides a final reveal up its sleeve that is so bonkers, you clearly have no sense of fun if you don’t loudly snicker in astonishment at how unbelievably outrageous the endgame turns out to be.
The problem that low-budget horror films with kooky concepts often run into is being self-aware of their camp value, and then going too far with their comedy or not far enough. Although there are jokes, the accidental brilliance of “Killer Sofa” is that its campiness isn’t played for laughs at all. Greenhorn actors stay stone cold sober with performances that are occasionally painful, but they give it their inexperienced all without turning into cartoons. The setup may be 100% gonzo, but “Killer Sofa” plays out as a 100% serious thriller. Being that far in over its head only makes the movie that much more endearing.
To avoid overselling its appeal, expectations should be reeled in by clarifying what “Killer Sofa” isn’t. It’s not a traditional “so bad, it’s good” lark campaigning for cult classic status. It’s not necessarily tailored for laughing out loud with inebriated friends at a midnight movie screening either. I’d also stop short of putting it in a class with “Sharknado”-like silliness from Syfy.
“Killer Sofa” is just a quietly bizarre little New Zealand oddity with a subdued sort of strangeness. It’s a beautiful mess of a movie that’s entertainingly entrancing. Nothing about it should work and yet magically, virtually everything does.
I’m tempted to score “Killer Sofa” with a perfect 100/100 because I don’t know how it could be any better. I’m equally inclined to award a 0/100 because it concurrently couldn’t get much worse. I’m settling on a rating in green because “Killer Sofa” is definitely recommended for when you want to warp your mind by indulging in something irresistibly bad for your brain.
I hope my imaginary assessment of “Killer Sofa” creator Bernie Rao is correct because I want to see more madness come from his offbeat cinematic sensibilities. However, I do not want to see a “Killer Sofa” sequel or a push in a more overtly satirical direction. “Killer Sofa” captures lunatic lightning in a batty bottle. There’s no way this serendipitous recipe of one-time actors, WTF plotting, and backyard buffoonery could be intentionally recreated with such delightfully unironic results ever again.
Review Score: 75