Kill Your Friends – film review

Nicholas Hoult stars in this gripping portrait of ’90s music industry chaos

Some films lend themselves to drinking games. A character drinks, you drink, you’re rolling on the floor by the time the credits roll. If you tried to keep up with the booze, drugs and fags consumed in Kill Your Friends, you’d end up stone cold on a mortuary slab.

A British answer to American Psycho, Kill Your Friends is a comic thriller set in the bacchanalian British music business of the late ’90s, a time when expense accounts were generous, Britpop had sparked a guitar band goldrush and people still bought albums. Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is a major label talent spotter for whom music is no more than a commodity. He hates bands, he hates gigs and picking a hit act is nothing more than pot luck. A combination of this lack of essential skills and an overabundance of ambition forces him to find an alternate route to the top – which is where the title becomes a grim reality.

For Hoult, now a bona fide Hollywood star thanks to his role in Mad Max: Fury Road, this must be one of the biggest challenges of his career: making the audience care about the film’s loathsome anti-hero. Put simply, Stelfox is a total bastard. But then, in their own way, everyone in the film is a total bastard, from James Corden’s sweaty, gak-addled head of A&R to Edward Hogg’s bent copper, Georgia King’s scheming secretary and the band manager trying to foist the ropiest girl band since Vanilla (Google ‘No Way No Way’ and wonder how that ever happened) on the unsuspecting British public.

It sounds a bit bleak, but it’s not, thanks to pacey storytelling from first-time director Owen Harris and a zippy script from John Niven, music biz survivor and author of the cult novel on which it’s based. Between the lines (pun intended), there’s a strange form of morality at work, in which life shits on everyone equally. And besides, you know the various characters will each get their comeuppance eventually. Somewhere in San Francisco, three guys were working on something called Napster…