“Who’s to say style can’t have substance?” says artist Henri (Jack Falahee), earnestly, to would-be fashion designer Lily (Jessica Rothe) at an art gallery, after she mentions how one particular minimalist painting feels like “all style.” The bland and self-serious Henri’s glaringly obvious response isn’t only what Lily needs to hear to convince her that he’s some kind of artistic genius (and to set off her unconvincing attraction to him), but one can practically imagine director Micael Preysler having used the line as a mantra during the film’s making. Preysler crafts a swoon-worthy aesthetic, where the fraying relationship between the titular friends is reflected through increasingly subjective camerawork, lighting, and even set design. But while the hyper-stylized look of the film attempts to elucidate resonant, relatable emotions, it doesn’t allow Lily & Kat to transcend its nature as a derivative horror story featuring overwrought actions that hardly resemble human behavior.
Lily is another example of the seemingly ubiquitous female archetype who’s single, fresh out of college, and a struggling artist of some kind, and whose chronic self-involvement tests the tolerance of those around her. In this case, the one closest to Lily is Kat (Hannah Murray), her British best friend who’s just suddenly announced that she’ll be leaving the States to go back to her native country in just one week, which only puts more trouble on the already-dissolving friendship. Preysler isn’t exactly interested in exploring the specifics of Lily and Kat’s relationship and shared history, only the destructive selfishness that comes between them. Such little insight is compounded by the dialogue, in which expositional discussions about characters come off as relentless streams of dorm-room philosophizing (as in a series of abstract scenes where Lily is interviewed about Kat). This only gives the impression that these aren’t characters so much as impossibly intellectual ideas of ones—resistant to any visceral or emotional connection to the audience or to each other.
Once Henri enters the picture, and both Lily and Kat take a liking to him, the final nail in the coffin to the friendship is immediately telegraphed. But other than being a predictable device for the film to move toward its inevitable conclusion, Kat’s fleeting affair with Henri, and Lily’s intense anger that follows, allows Preysler to reinforce a callow implication that inadvertently becomes the more pronounced “substance” than the central relationship the film stylizes. Between Lily’s co-worker speechifying through a monologue about how everyone needs to find that special someone to finally be happy and Lily’s harsh opinions over Kat’s constant slew of boyfriends, Preysler passive-aggressively seems to suggest that anyone who isn’t exactly interested in monogamy may be some kind of selfish, intolerable sociopath.