Kalifornia (1993)
Polygram Home Video
Cast: Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes

This underdog of a movie, created by underdog director Dominic Senna, creates an impact on the viewer that won’t soon be forgotten. Though it was largely unnoticed by the public on its initial release, it is a remarkable road movie that not only moves beyond the clichés of the genre, but also dispenses a message about violence in today’s society – without, like most movies, glamorizing the very violence it decries. Brian (David Duchovny) and Carrie (Michelle Forbes) are a yuppie couple trying to write a book about serial killers together. She is the photographer, Brian the mass-murder-obsessed writer. Their quest is to travel cross-country to visit famous murder sites.

Unfortunately, they’re low on cash, and decide to find someone to share the ride (and the gas). They put up an ad on the campus bulletin board – and Early (Brad Pitt) discovers the note while applying for a job to satisfy his parole officer. Soon, he and his infantile girlfriend Adele (Juliette Lewis) find themselves in the backseat of Brian’s convertible on their way to California.

And then the fun begins. It turns out that Brian and Carrie are about to get some first-hand research on their topic: Early is a psychotic serial killer. Other movies would create an escape drama. "Kalifornia" goes one step further. It explores the attraction of violence done to others. Brian and Carrie are confronted with what they knew only through their research, enjoying it voyeuristically, from a distance. Up close, Early’s slayings are remarkably removed from the strange mystique that attracted the two to their project – not so entertaining any more, but still fascinating – at least to the blunt Brian, who even begins to bond with the deranged Early, while Carrie experiences erotic attractions and repulsions.

Brad Pitt is perfectly cast as Early. His performance is frightening, oozing menace and absolute evil. He is convincing every single second of the movie, leaving the stiff David Duchovny oftentimes looking like a prop – for example, during Brian’s lectures about serial killers and the sheer pleasure Early must find in violence. Juliette Lewis’s dazzling portrayal of the trashy Adele is simply scary; the spastically laughing, affected half-brain white-trash girl is so convincing, it makes you wonder if it is really just a part Juliette is playing. Adele is a frighteningly real product of our society, reciting half- truths she learned from television – and which conspire to make Early her hero. Brian and Carrie are just as sick. They’re just a little more educated.

The movie escalates through violence as Early finally turns on his new-found friends, resulting in a stunning climax that is psychologically true to the characters.

"Kalifornia" comes with both the original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> and <$PS,Pan&Scan> version on one disc. The transfer is meticulous, giving the movie a previously unseen sharpness. Since the movie contains many beautiful outdoor shots with purple skies, dust, and thunderstorms, the rich colors of this DVD add heavily to the experience of this already impressive movie. The disc also contains additional behind-the-scenes footage, as well as two different versions of the movie – the R-rated and an unrated version, selectable from the interactive menu.

The transfer of the sound is also very well done. The disc features a stereo <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack excellently suited to underscore the dark sequences on screen. Sound effects are full-bodied and well-placed in the surround field. The movie comes fully dubbed in English and French with Spanish subtitles selectable from the menu.

"Kalifornia" is an extremely violent movie, but the violence is never gratuitous. The violence is so much part of Early that it becomes an intrinsic part of the story itself. The message of the movie seems to be that our society breeds people like Early, and indoctrinates people like Brian with the mistaken belief that somehow violence is attractive, even while society decries the effects of this violence. We’re told that no one wants to see this violence – but we find ourselves watching it anyway. Of course, Oliver Stone discusses that further in "Natural Born Killers" – also starring Juliette Lewis.