Twenty-seven years ago today, the film Kalifornia premiered. It is a stand out submission in a series of serial killer movies from the early 90s, with great actors doing great acting. You should see this movie.
Directed by: Dominic Sena
Produced by: Steve Golin, Aristides McGarry, Sigurjón Sighvatsson
Screenplay by: Tim Metcalfe
Story by: Stephen Levy, Tim Metcalfe
Starring: Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Edited by: Martin Hunter
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Viacom Pictures
Distributed by: Gramercy Pictures
Release date: August 27, 1993 (Montreal World Film Festival), September 3, 1993 (U.S.)
Running time: 117 minutes
Budget: $8.5 million
Box office: $2.4 million
Brian Kessler is a graduate student and journalist whose article about serial killers has gotten him an offer for a book deal from a publisher. He and his girlfriend Carrie Laughlin, an avant garde photographer, decide to relocate to California in hopes of enriching their careers. The two plot their journey from Louisville, Kentucky to Los Angeles, planning to visit infamous murder sites along the way which Carrie can photograph for Brian’s book. Short on funds, Brian posts a ride-share ad on the university campus.
Meanwhile, psychopathic parolee Early Grayce has just lost his job. His parole officer learns of this and comes to the trailer park where Early lives with his naïve, developmentally-delayed girlfriend Adele Corners. Early refuses the officer’s offer of a job as a janitor at the university, saying he wants to leave the state, but the officer pressures him into keeping his appointment for the job interview. When Early arrives at the campus, he sees the ride-share ad and calls Brian, who agrees to meet him the following day. Early sends Adele ahead, then murders his landlord before joining her to wait for Brian and Carrie. Carrie is reluctant about riding with the couple given their rough appearance, but Brian encourages her to give them a chance. On the road, unbeknown to his companions, Early murders a man in a gas station bathroom and steals his money. When they arrive at their first hotel, Early cuts Adele’s long hair shorter to try to match Carrie’s.
At another hotel, Early invites Brian out to play pool, leaving Adele and Carrie alone together. Adele explains that her mother did not approve of her relationship, because Early had just been released from prison. Adele reveals to Carrie that she suffered a vicious gang rape and that she views Early as her protector, even though he sometimes “punishes” her. While Carrie and Adele drink beer, Adele also admits to Carrie that Early forbids her to smoke or drink. Meanwhile, at a local bar, Early assaults a man who confronts Brian. Later on during the road-trip, Early introduces Brian to pistol shooting in a remote, unnamed location.
Carrie is alarmed by Brian’s growing fascination with Early, and by Brian’s nonchalant response to the news that Early is a convicted felon. After catching Early and Adele having sex in the car, she gives Brian an ultimatum: either they rid themselves of the pair, or she will leave. At a desert gas station, Carrie glimpses a news report about Early being a suspected murderer. Early kills the gas station attendant in front of Carrie and continues the trip with the couple as hostages. At an abandoned mine camp, the party encounter two police officers, whom Early shoots and kills. They next come to the home of an elderly couple in the desert. Early beats the man to death, but Adele allows the woman to flee.
When Early confronts Adele about letting the woman free, she hits him in the face with a cactus and chastises him, after which he shoots her to death. He then knocks Brian unconscious before kidnapping Carrie, driving her to the abandoned Dreamland nuclear testing site on the California-Nevada border. Early forces Carrie to dress in Adele’s clothes and the film implies that he rapes her off-camera. Brian regains consciousness, and the elderly woman gives him the keys to her truck. Brian follows Early to the nuclear test site and attacks him, hitting him in the face with a shovel. Brian finds Carrie, who appears to be in shock, handcuffed to a bed in an abandoned house. Early, who was only stunned, attacks Brian and they struggle until Early is hit over the head by Carrie with the limb from a nuclear test mannequin. When Early continues the attack, Brian shoots and kills him.
Some time later, Brian and Carrie are living in an oceanfront house in Malibu. As Brian sifts through tapes made with his voice recorder during their trip, Carrie tells him that a local gallery is interested in her art. Brian responds by suggesting they go out to celebrate. As they depart, Brian unintentionally leaves a recording running, which reveals a “thank you” message Adele covertly left at the end of a tape.