Alyce Kills often suggests a blunt, trashy fusion of Repulsion and Bartleby, the Scrivener. In the tradition of many quasi-feminist horror films, it follows a woman as she gradually withdraws from society’s demeaning hypocrisies and catcalls, eventually going mad and raising holy hell. The first few scenes immediately establish that not all is well with Alyce (Jade Dornfeld), who lives in a dingy, eternally dark, cracker-box apartment while working a thankless cubicle job plugging hedge-fund numbers into spreadsheets for what’s, in all likelihood, a dispiritedly vast and impersonal corporation. Alyce compensates for this anonymity with a sense of entitlement that’s commonplace in smart, not terribly ambitious, young people who find themselves voluntarily imprisoned in drone work: She regards a superior, Danielle (Rena Owen), with smug disdain, and zones out with her phone, often hung over, whenever she’s left to her own devices.
In other words, Alyce could be a character from either version of The Office or a dozen other similar workplace sitcoms, an exaggerated version of millions of real people who resent their daily march into a boring company building every morning, while assuring themselves that this is only the first or second step in a five-year plan that all but guarantees the realizations of their real aspirations. But writer-director Jay Lee not so subtly coaxes out the anger that’s latent in the prototypical middle-class arrangement, allowing worker-bee frustration to manifest itself as a palpable cloud of madness. The big joke, which isn’t original but effective, is that Alyce is clearly a blossoming psychopath from minute one, but no one notices because they’re too busy tending to their own relentless self-regard.
Alyce Kills is distinctive because Lee doesn’t invite us to sympathize with Alyce; she isn’t a doomed wallflower in the tradition of the heroes of Carrie, May, or many others, but a hypocrite who holds herself above the illusion of the American dream while secretly expecting to reap its attendant rewards anyway. The film is an ultra-violent parody of unearned self-entitlement, of people who feel tricked into a lifestyle they refuse to challenge for the comforts it still offers.
This perspective is refreshing in a film climate that often encourages Generation X and Y’s self-pity, and Alyce Kills might’ve been an invigoratingly gaudy cult classic if Lee’s imagery was more original. Alas, quite a bit of the first hour resorts to standard horror clichés involving dark alleys, strobe lights, and hallucinations of girl corpses with milky white eyes. But the third act is a small triumph, as the requisite violence is a peculiar blend of the cartoonish and the legitimately grisly. One murder is particularly disconcerting and revealing: Alyce stabs a man in the chest and he collapses onto her living room floor. Deciding to grind him up in her garbage disposal, she proceeds to beat him with a bat over and over, “tenderizing” him for the kitchen sink. In this moment, Lee’s sick deconstruction of tormented youthful American tunnel vision reaches full bloom.