“The Killing of Two Lovers” starts with the striking opening scene as disturbing as its very title suggests. While the movie subsequently maintains its calm and detached attitude throughout the film, we come to observe its story and main characters with growing concern as wondering what may happen next among them, and we are not relieved at all even at the end of the story, which still suggests some discord and anxiety below the surface.
During the early part of the film, we get to know the current situation of David (Clayne Crawford) and his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), a plain ordinary married couple residing in some small rural town of Utah. Because they recently decided to have a brief period of seperation, David is staying in his widower father’s house while she remains with their four children in their house, and they also agreed in advance that they can respectively try to see other people, but this agreement does not work as well as expected. While David is still missing Nikki, Nikki has been already dating a guy named Derek (Chris Coy), and that understandably makes David quite exasperated and agonized.
During the opening scene which I will let you see for yourself, David even considers committing something drastic to Nikki and Derek, but he eventually gives up, and then we observe more of his miserable current circumstance. Although he and his father have been getting along fairly well with each other in his father’s house, we sense some emotional distance between them even though they cordially interact with each other on the whole. When he later visits an old neighbor of his for doing some outdoor work for that neighbor, there is a brief amusing moment when that neighbor tells David about how willing she has been to flirt with his father after her husband’s recent death, and the following conversation between them reminds him again of whether he and his wife were really happy at all during all those years of their married life.
Although still feeling hurt and resentful, David tries to be nice and civil when he comes to his house for meeting his wife and kids again, and Nikki does not hide what has been going on between her and Derek, but there is one little problem for them. Their eldest daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) has been not so pleased about her parents’ separation, and she certainly dislikes how her mother has been ‘cheating’ on her father. At one point, she harshly responds to Derek when he drops by her house for a small congratulation on the promotion at her workplace, and David and Nikki cannot help but a bit amused as watching the incident from the distance.
As they are having a little private time between them, we see there are still some affection and understanding between David and Nikki, but we are also reminded of the considerable gap between them. Everything might have looked fine and well to them when they married not long after the end of their high school years, but they are now jaded adults facing their hard reality everyday, and Nikki may pursue her promising professional career more instead of focusing on mending her estranged relationship with David. In addition, Derek seems to be a better guy than David in several aspects, and, though she says that she is not so serious about Derek, it looks like Nikki has actually been considering leaving David for marrying Derek later.
Feeling more separated from his wife as well as his children, David clumsily tries to get closer to them as much as possible, but that unfortunately leads to more conflict between him and Nikki, and things get more complicated when he attempts to have a nice time along with their kids later in the story. As cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jimenez’s camera steadily looks at them from the distance, the movie subtly and gradually dials up the level of tension behind the screen, and we are not so surprised when a sudden conflict is subsequently erupted on the screen.
Although its final part is rather abrupt, director/writer/editor/co-producer Robert Machoian, who previously received the Short Film Special Jury Prize for “The Minors” (2019) at the Sundance Film Festival, did a commendable job of establishing vivid local atmosphere and believable characters for his dry but engaging storytelling. While the occasional shots of wide landscapes emphasize to us a sense of isolation around the main characters, the camera also closely sticks to them during several key scenes in the film, and their tedious status is accentuated further by the screen ratio of 1.33:1.
Machoian draws the good performances from his few main cast members. While Clayne Crawford, who also participated in the production of the film along with Machoian, ably conveys to us the seething emotional status behind his character’s resigned façade, Sepideh Moafi is convincing as a woman who is emotionally confused as much as her husband, and Chris Coy and Avery Pizzuto are also effective in their respective supporting roles.
In conclusion, “The Killing of Two Lovers” is a phlegmatic but tense character drama to be appreciated for its good mood, storytelling, and performance, and Machoian demonstrates here that he is another interesting filmmaker to watch. Although I have not seen his previous works including “God Bless the Child” (2015), he is a good director as far as I can see from his achievement here in this film, and I guess I can have some expectation on whatever will come next from him.