KILLER SOFA *** New Zealand 2019 Dir: Bernie Rao. 81 mins
Pedants of the world unite: it’s not a killer sofa, it’s a homicidal, insanely jealous reclining chair. Writer-director Bernie Rao had his original, wittier titles (MY LOVER, MY LAZY BOY and the wonderful THE FURNISHING) nixed and had to settle for something more marketable – positioning his movie into the novelty-named domestic horror sub-genre alongside cheap n cheerful fare like THE REFRIGERATOR and DEATH BED. Played straight by its deadpan cast, this Wellington-set movie allows laughs to emerge naturally from the absurdity of its antagonist rather than trying too hard for chuckles. This means solemnly delivered lines like “Whoever has that recliner is in great danger!” and suspense scenes in which the cumbersome chair ambles its way slowly toward its victims while navigating awkward doorways. Gorgeous Piimio Mei is a dancer with a propensity for attracting unwelcome male attention- most notably a voodoo-practicing oddball stalker who has just experienced an unpleasant case of death. Now anyone who takes an interest in her is assaulted and offed by a reclining chair inhabited by the Dybbuk. Sporting “eyes” and an unnerving permanent grimace, the chair is first seen in a delivery van lit like a 1970’s Argento film, inflicting a nasty injury on a removal man. An amusing barrage of exposition – involving 19th century soul eaters and self-styled online “experts” – is balanced with unusually appealing, fun supporting characters like Mei’s best friend (Nathalie Morris) and her grandad (Jim Baltaxe), who has “the gift”. It has a droll, offbeat tone typical of New Zealand horror comedies, but it’s also stylishly shot and has what should be a star-making central performance from Mei. Refreshingly, Rao doesn’t fall back on cheap gross-out laughs, despite a weird erotic dream sequence and a masturbation scene involving an iron – but does sustain an admittedly one-joke premise quite nicely.
Review by Steven West