Five people sit in a darkened room. Their arms and legs are bound in barbed wire. A man enters. “Beneath the arms of your chairs, if you haven’t already noticed, are two buttons. Under your left, a vote for freedom. Under your right arm, is a vote for death.” So begins A.R. Hilton’s inaugural feature-length film Anonymous Killers.
From these first tense moments, Hilton unspools a fascinating morality tale dressed in betrayal, violence, and blood. These five individuals are killers, but how and why they became killers is what interests their mysterious captor Emaramus (Nathanyael Grey). The game they will play is simple: each will tell the story of how they became a murderer, and then the group will decide who deserves to live and who must die.
The majority of the film follows the characters through extended flashback retellings of their origin stories. What inspired their homicidal tendencies varies widely, but one theme does begin to emerge. While their first kills may seem justified to some, no one crime seems forgivable by all. As their stories unfold, the audience is left to wonder, can anyone be forgiven for the blood they’ve shed?
Anonymous Killers is a fine first step for A.R. Hilton, who tells his story with an ease and confidence rarely seen in creators newer to the field. Themes of societal violence and systemic oppression are balanced nicely with the movie’s more gorey genre fare, which keeps things entertaining while asking larger questions. The film becomes especially fascinating when one learns Mr. Hilton conceived the idea for the story while incarcerated.
What’s more, it’s clear Hitlon is a true movie buff. Not only does Anonymous Killers feature great practical effects, but it was also shot on 35mm. An expensive (and impressive) touch that really lets cinematographer Bob Nguyen’s work shine.
If you’re looking for a twisted meditation on judgement and justice, Anonymous Killers just might be what you need. I can’t wait to see what Hilton does next.
Anonymous Killers premieres October 6, with a limited “Theater At Home” experience and a wider streaming release later in the month.