A post-coital Axel (Shane Quigley-Murphy) sits in the foreground with an undressed Dakota (Paige Gilmour) in the background in ‘Kill Your Lover.’

Dark Comedy ‘Kill Your Lover’ Is Your New Favorite Breakup Movie

Few genres effectively capture the rottenness of a bad separation like horror. By infusing our worst characteristics into monsters and modern-day harpies, a good storyteller can seize the universal intensity and painfulness of the whole mess, which is why the hysterics of Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession “gets it” better than, say, the realism of Marriage Story. Horror understands that there is something altering in the process of severing relations, something that feels like it changes our DNA, turns lovers into the worst versions of themselves, and opens yawning wounds. Newcomers Keir Stewart and Alix Austin delight in re-opening those wounds for everyone in their explosive feature debut Kill Your Lover, a head-banging body horror that serves as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of everyone’s worst breakup.

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It begins with a tried-and-true trick: a framed picture of a seemingly happy couple crashes onto the floor. As the glass scatters, an occluded, possibly bloody figure stumbles away, to be revealed sometime in the third act. The rest of the first act hops back and forth in time to introduce said couple during courtship, and their current state of affairs. Party-hearty Dakota (Paige Gilmour) hooks up with Axel (Shane Quigley-Murphy) casually, and soon enough they’re an item. In the movie’s brisk 77-minute runtime, Stewart and Austin pack in the essence of the pair’s years-long relationship mostly in terms of their nude, intertwined bodies—from when the sex was passionate and playful to when the bedroom became a drab mortuary. Far from being gratuitous, it’s a clever way to approach the body horror that comes along later (first in health, then in sickness; a reversal of the old wedding vow), when Dakota decides that it’s finally time to break things off with her increasingly toxic man. 

But something’s wrong with Axel. Overhearing Dakota’s plans to break up with him, he takes ill in the bathroom, and it’s clear that this isn’t just some Hail Mary-ploy for attention. He doubles over in pain before revealing a network of dark, veiny outgrowths spreading on his body. Soon, he’s secreting a gooey mucus that chemically burns anyone he touches. The metaphor is sledgehammer-subtle, but nothing about Kill Your Lover is vague. 

Alex draws first blood, jealously and viciously attacking a paramedic giving aid to Dakota; from then on, it’s buckets of blood, ooze, and glistening innards courtesy of Rebecca Wheeler’s visceral makeup and prosthetic effects, which leave nothing to the imagination. From Axel’s noxious touch to the cuts made by both of them when Dakota fights back, every stage of the average breakup finds gory representation, making the whole show much more entertaining than going through the real thing.

In tandem with the horror bits is a consistent humor, extracted from their relatable disintegration. Laughs come from Axel’s denial of reality—sweating and secreting acidic goo in a bathtub, he tells a first responder that it’s just a bad reaction that’ll “clear up” soon—and Dakota’s unimpressed POV as she stares at the ceiling while the man she no longer loves attempts awkward oral sex. Leavening the whole affair is a rock ’em sock ’em soundtrack by Thibault Chavanis, leaning into Dakota’s punk rocker background with high distortion and rapid-fire kick drums. For a movie that’s essentially two people in a room, Kill Your Lover keeps things lively with a wholly original monstrosity and a wink at the audience, asking, I know it hurt to end things, but it was also all a bit absurd, wasn’t it?

As for the two people in the room, Paige Gilmour and Shane Quigley-Murphy bring it all together with their stellar chemistry. As Axel slowly submits to the malignant toxins of the corrupted relationship, Quigley-Murphy moves from twitchy passive-aggressiveness to Hall of Fame-level abuser with such believability that the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival post-screening audience Q&A was filled with variations on the question, “Who hurt you? Are you okay?” Quigley-Murphy’s commitment to the role finds a fine counterbalance in Gilmour, whose Dakota is a Fleabag in Doc Martens. Together, they elevate the film to its optimal plane; the fun of movies like this is their ability to humorously poke at old tender spots, making us laugh and wince at the same time.

Watch Kill Your Lover with your on-again, off-again lover before telling them, “I hope we can still be friends.”

(featured image: Switchblade Cinema)


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Author
Anya Novak
Anya Stanley (she/her) is a writer for The Mary Sue, most frequently covering the horror genre across mediums. Among her six+ years of working in the digital media and entertainment industry, Anya’s past works can also be found at The AV Club, Fangoria Magazine, and Crooked Marquee. See her smug face on Shudder's docuseries Behind the Monsters. When she’s not consuming every scary movie she can find, she is trying to add to the word count of her non-fiction book in progress (her second author credit following her chapter in Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film, by House of Leaves Publishing). You can find more of her ravings on X (formerly Twitter) @BookishPlinko.