The condemned: Killer Sofa (2019)
The plot: Just when you thought it was safe to take a Sunday afternoon nap, Killer Sofa lays all its cards on the table with that title. You are about to watch a movie featuring a piece of furniture that murders people. This was a premise already made famous and mocked into oblivion by Patton Oswalt’s classic bit about the B-movie Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (Oswalt added a “People” to the end of that title, which, yeah, that’s funnier), so it’s anyone’s guess as to why someone would Mad Libs that title into Killer Sofa, other than thinking it would be fun to execute the exact same idea, but with alternate home décor.
Only, here’s the wild thing, which needs to be acknowledged upfront: This movie is not about a killer sofa. It’s about a killer recliner, a La-Z-Boy with deadly intent. That title is already lying to you, right out of the gate! Why? What possible purpose does that serve? I get that Killer Recliner doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly as Killer Sofa, but even Killer Chair would be more accurate. Death Seat? You had a lot of viable options, is what I’m trying to say to the producers. You didn’t need to pull a bait-and-switch with the kind of bloodthirsty furniture we’ll be watching annihilate people. I’ve watched this entire film through more than once now, and I still haven’t seen a killer sofa. Someone else, please make that movie. And then name it Deadly Hammock, what the hell.
Anyway, this movie shoves a comically unnecessary amount of plot and backstory into a film about a sentient recliner. I have five pages of notes that do nothing but summarize the story beats, which is four pages more than I should’ve needed. Here’s my attempt to do a more concise job than the filmmakers: Francesca is a dancer who has a tendency to attract controlling, obsessive men who then develop stalker-ish tendencies, until she files a restraining order and changes apartments. One day, after rehearsing a dance at a club that looks suspiciously like a badly lit black-box studio (guess where the majority of this movie was shot?), two cops show up to inform her that one of these stalker exes, Frederico, has been murdered. (The inspectors are named “Gravy” and “Grape,” for no discernible reason, thematic or otherwise.)
But while she feels bad, Francesca doesn’t have time for this, because she and her best friend, Maxi, along with Fran’s boyfriend, TJ (whom we’re repeatedly assured is gay, which is why he doesn’t turn creepy and obsessive like her past relationships), are off to pick up Francesca’s new recliner. Despite coming affixed with a note saying it’s meant for her, it is never explained why she wanted it, or how she was notified it was available, but available it was, and after being accidentally delivered to the wrong address, she takes possession of it. (The guy to whom it was mistakenly delivered turns out to be Maxi’s granddad—more on him shortly.) Soon enough, the chair seems to be taking a shine to Francesca, and also taking on a life of its own—its buttons acquire a reddish glow like malevolent eyes, and when TJ comes home by himself, the chair attacks, stabbing him in the legs, not that anyone believes him when he swears this chair is possessed.
This is where the story really gets difficult to parse. Things continue to happen: TJ goes to his mom’s place to recover but the chair tracks him down and kills him there, another obsessive weirdo named Ralph breaks into Francesca’s home to install spy cameras, but is also killed by the recliner while masturbating to some of Francesca’s clothing. At the same time, a stupidly convoluted backstory unfolds, with the emphasis on “stupid.” See, Maxi’s granddad has a vision when he touches the recliner, and he’s convinced it’s possessed by a Dybbuk, a malicious spirit of Jewish myth. Long ago, a pair of “demonic soul eaters” named Valerie and Gerard (classic soul eater names) died, but their spirits passed on and possessed new vessels, forever trying to be together. Valerie is in Francesca, and Gerard is in... the recliner. We see numerous scenes of these past folks, and then it’s all explained in rapid, elaborate detail via some helpful internet videos that both viewers and the characters watch in depressing real time. Maxi’s grandpa (a disgraced ex-rabbi, because why not) says they’re in a race against time to make a Dybbuk box to trap the spirit and then set it on fire before it consumes them completely.
This doesn’t begin to address the innumerable tossed-off subplot asides or complicated elements of mythology that are picked up, then dropped, with little justification or sense, not to mention the relentless churn of additional story beats shoved into this already overstuffed film. Let’s cut to the end: Francesca is saved from the recliner at the last second by the cops, who shoot it apart, revealing the decomposing body of Frederico that’s been somehow welded inside of it. But just when all seems well, the spirit of Valerie comes back out of nowhere and takes over Francesca completely, who then poisons the cop Gravy and transfers the spirit of Gerard into him. Maxi watches as the cop snaps the neck of his partner Grape, then the two newly embodied soul eaters head out on the town, leaving Maxi to stare in horror as she sees Francesca being trapped inside the spirit of the recliner, or something. The end? I hope? Honestly, I’m baffled.
Over-the-top box copy: The tagline on the front of the DVD is “Don’t sit on the furniture,” which doesn’t exactly ooze menace, phrasing-wise. Plus, considering the cover art features a chair with giant fangs in the seat, spattered with blood, one would think the image alone would be sufficient to convey that warning. (It’s probably also on the recliner’s little “Do not remove” tag, too.) Flip it over, and the back features the more entertaining tagline, “The most RELAXING way to DIE!” No one in this movie seems to die in a very relaxing manner, however, so again, false advertising. No sofa, no relaxation. You sit on a throne of lies, lying movie.
The descent: Honestly, this sort of dim-bulb trash holds an undeniable appeal. To the movie’s credit, it makes very clear from the trailer that the creators take the conceit wholly seriously. There’s no winking to the camera, or any meta acknowledgment of how ludicrous the whole thing is. When the chair looks around a corner at someone, or appears outside someone’s window at night, staring balefully up, the characters don’t laugh and say, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” They scream and are appropriately terrified. That helps sell the endeavor, as do the actual kills, which are unironically gory. And honestly, the fact that the damn chair can get up and move around like some sort of IKEA showroom gone demonic went a long way in selling me on the possible entertainment value. It looked like a film that could be legitimately fun.
The theoretically heavenly talent: Besides the obvious fact that this is stocked with a bunch of people you’ve never heard of (the biggest “name” would be the guy who plays Inspector Gravy, Jed Brophy, who had bit parts in a lot of Peter Jackson movies, and played Dagda Mor on The Shannara Chronicles), it’s obviously a no-budget labor of love, with nearly everyone on the crew performing multiple roles in which they are far from experienced. This is star Piimio Mei’s only credited role, but she pulls triple duty with choreography and makeup. I do like that, at one point, the end credits just give up and name the assistant property master as “Dad.”
The execution: Even at 80 minutes, this is an exhausting watch. The main problem is that despite the fleet running time, it tries to cram so much extraneous plot and needless exposition into its narrative that it ends up feeling more labored and clumsy than if it had just introduced a bloodthirsty recliner and left the rest to the imagination. It feels a bit like when you ask a group of middle school kids to come up with the idea for a screenplay, and eventually they just keep piling one development on top of the other. “The chair contains an evil spirit!” “Yeah, and he’s in love with her!” “But it’s not her, it’s another spirit inside her!” “Yeah, but her great-grandmother had this problem, too!” “And it infects everyone she knows, but only sometimes!” And on and on. I’m surprised a Transformer doesn’t show up at some point. The promotional materials compare it to Christine, but it’s more like Death Bed fan fiction as done by people whose favorite part of playing Dungeons & Dragons is coming up with their character’s backstory.
There are so many dropped bits of character information, which add absolutely nothing to the narrative, that it gets nearly Room-like in its absurdity at points. Here’s a brief scene where Francesca and Maxi are watching a movie, when suddenly Maxi drops a heavy bit of info regarding her family’s antiques business, and Fran counters with a suggestion that Maxi is a major musical talent. Then they go back to watching the movie. Do either of these pieces of information come up again? They do not.
Then again, why dwell on the negative, especially when there are clips of a chair hunting and killing people. Here’s an early one, the first indication that this chair is straight up sentient, and is watching the characters, waiting for its chance to make a move. God bless the film for playing it straight. Maxi, take it away.
Of course, the chair isn’t the only one making some bold character choices. Her first night owning the chair, Francesca lies down in it and kicks the footrest up, and the music gets sexy. But in case you thought she was going to masturbate or something, no, Fran likes to keep you on your toes. So instead, she... sexually pleasures the chair? It’s unclear. She writhes around like she’s in a soft-core porn, but the only thing she does is feel up the chair in ways presumably meant to be seductive. “I’m not sure, but I think she wants to fuck the chair” is the main takeaway. I guess that’s the evil soul eater inside her?
There are some flabbergasting moments in which even the ostensible reality of everyday people dealing with a sentient recliner is left behind. For instance, when Francesca wakes up one morning, the chair greets her with cookies, tea, and chocolates. She assumes TJ made them for her, but when he drunkenly staggers in after an all-night bachelor party, she still assumes he somehow crept in and baked during the night. Weirder still, TJ just rolls with it, taking credit for baking cookies and setting up an elaborate morning treat, instead of saying, “Dear god, this means someone was in our apartment last night. Call the fucking police.” TJ: Boyfriend of the year. Also, he leaves the door open while preheating the oven to make a frozen pizza. Who leaves the fucking oven door open when heating up the oven, TJ? You will not preheat your oven very effectively that way.
Then again, TJ gets his comeuppance pretty quickly. In a scene that offers the previously mentioned—but always hilarious—sight of the chair staring someone down, TJ catches it below his window; and this is also the moment we learn the recliner somehow has magical coils that can travel three stories up the side of a building in order to impale someone to death. Logic, thy name is not Killer Sofa.
The recliner does a pretty good job when it comes to disposing of bodies, however. You may remember the aforementioned Ralph, a creepy weirdo who breaks into Francesca’s apartment so he can secretly film her and also jerk off into her clothes. (I will not include it here for decorum’s sake, but it’s one of the most confusing methods of masturbation I’ve ever seen.) The chair murders him, but it’s not until Maxi stops by and catches the chair in the act of cleaning up its mess that things really get good.
Look, there’s plenty of entertainment value here. The whole thing is reliably bonkers; I just wish it were done in a skillful enough way to merit recommending the film. But it falls into that middle area between joyful self-aware silliness and badly made nonsense—fitfully fun but too amateurish to fully enjoy. I do want to single out the climax as having a particularly inspired moment, however: When Francesca tries to pour gasoline all over the recliner and set it aflame—getting as much gas on herself as the chair, not that I credit Francesca with an overabundance of brains—she finds her plan stymied by an unexpected hurdle: a chair with breath.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Slim. Killer Sofa doesn’t possess the filmmaking talent to hold up in the long run, or the outsider-art stupidity of something like The Dawnseeker to recommend it. It’s just ridiculous enough to maybe merit a casual watch, possibly while hungover on a Sunday afternoon on an actual sofa. (Ya burnt, Killer Sofa.)
Damnable commentary track or special features? Killer Sofa features one of the most inessential bonus features I’ve ever seen on a disc. No commentary track or gag reels here—no, the “specials features” section is limited to a single three-minute clip titled “Behind the scenes,” and which has each actor saying their name, and then the name of the character they’re playing. That accounts for half of the three minutes. Then, there’s a minute of a spare industrial beat, and a few establishing shots from the film behind it. It ends with a screen depicting nothing but the film’s title, while 30 seconds of the one song composed for the film plays, to no accompanying imagery. (The song is a gentle acoustic number, by the way.) The end. It’s maybe the weirdest part of the entire viewing experience.