Timo Tjahjanto – one half of the Mo Brothers with (non-sibling) Kimo Stamboel – talks to Jeremy Kay on the eve of the Sundance world premiere of Killers and explains why the filmmakers are going their separate ways.

The Mo Brothers burst on to the scene with their 2009 slasher movie Macabre and return with Killers, a Japan-Indonesia thriller that premieres in Midnight on January 20.

Killers charts the disturbing online rivalry between two foreigners mired in a world of murder for very different reasons. Kazuki Kitamura stars opposite Indonesian rapper-actor Oka Antara.

Nikkatsu produced with Guerilla Merah Films in association with sales agent XYZ Films. The Raid 2 director Gareth Evans serves as executive producer. Tjahjanto is pictured at left.

How did all this start?
This goes back to 2009. We had finished our first feature Macabre. It’s like a slasher film because we love horror. At the time this Japanese guy [Takuji Ushiyama] who had produced some stuff in Japan approached us with an original idea about making this film. He said what if we made a film about two guys wearing clown masks and they have a race to see how many people they can kill and then upload he footage on to the internet.

You handle the psychology of the men sensitively
When I wrote the script I wanted to work on something that was personal and more relatable. I didn’t want to make another slasher film. The theme of two guys killing and connecting through the internet could still be made, but in a context that was more relatable. I decided to explore the male dependency for violence. (I needed Takuji to write the Japanese scenes and help me because Japanese culture is so specific.) I tried to be as subtle as possible. The thing is we had to strike this balance between Bayu, who is slowly turning into a monster, and Nomura, who is a monster but he is also a person. I tried my best to avoid that cheesy mysterious serial killer cliché. Nomura is almost a template for pure evil, but we need to feel something for him.

Does the character of Bayu resonate with you?
A lot of my perspective is from Bayu’s point of view, as a writer especially because the character is an investigative journalist. He is a guy everyone can relate to, especially if you live in Jakarta where corruption is rife. It’s a messy and violent city. If you live here as a middle-class person who is trying to do good, it’s a really tough thing. It drains you morally. It drains your sanity. I wanted to make this a study of someone who is usually idealistic and realises he cannot be diplomatic and has to take the violent road that others do not want to tread.

How do you and Kimo direct?
Usually it’s Kimo letting me do whatever I want. Especially on a project like this where we’re outside our comfort zone and especially in Japan where there’s not a lot of room for error, it’s better if the direction comes from one person. So we discuss the shot list beforehand and then somebody will sit by the monitor, which is usually Kimo, and I am the guy who runs out of control on everything.

How did you get the funds together?
Nikkatsu is the Japanese studio and we had private investors from Indonesia. It’s tougher in Indonesia. Japan has genre whereas in Indonesia it’s actually quite new, so there are private investors.

When and where did you shoot?
We shot in late 2012, in Japan in August and in Indonesia in September and October. Our budget was pretty low so we had to shoot Nomura’s scenes first in 15 days, so that was really tight. After that we rushed to Jakarta where we shot all the final scenes first and after that we shot all the Bayu scenes. Japan is so expensive: 15 days there was equivalent to 40 in Jakarta.

Killers has plenty to say about voyeurism and the internet
When we see a car accident we slow down. Even though we know it’s a horrifying thing, we roll down the windows and look. The more extreme case is there are a lot of videos on the internet of cartel beheadings. It’s sickening but there’s a part of us that has this morbid curiosity. That was the subject we wanted to pick up on. Nomura is a character who is also narcissistic and sees his life as a movie in a way.

The Raid has put Indonesia on the map. Has it helped the industry there?
Generally Indonesian films are not well regarded, so when people start talking about Asian films they automatically think of Japan or Thailand, where the Ong-bak films have made a name for the country. But I can safely say the international gauge has starting to swing thanks to The Raid. That film changed the perspective regarding what can be shot in Indonesia. People are starting to notice Indonesia and I suppose that’s a good thing even though our ticket sales are still [rather soft.] Something like The Raid does well but other Indonesian films only sell about 2,000 tickets. It’s going in the right direction though. Gareth [Evans, The Raid director] is a good friend of mine and he always says even though he is a Welsh director The Raid is 99.9% Indonesian product, so that’s good to hear.

Is it true you and Kimo are going solo?
We have reached that age now where we don’t want to have co-pilots. We’re both going to be 34 so now is the time. We met in 2002 at film school in Sydney, Australia and became very good friends. I always think of myself as somebody who wants to keep on learning. I don’t want to do another psychological thriller; I want to try something else. My next film is going to be an action film. We’re good friends and have had fun together: a lot of producers here know you have to be careful with the Mo Brothers because we’re a pair of idealists and don’t want to listen to the suits because if we do we’re going to make teenage drama or religious movies.

So what is next for you?
I will direct The Night Comes For Us, which Gareth is producing. He’s a very good friend of mine. I collaborated with Gareth on V/H/S and V/H/S 2 and he’s helping me. I always wanted to make an action film but it’s such a technical journey as a filmmaker so I have his help. The Raid 2 [which premieres at Sundance] is incredible. [RADiUS-TWC will release The Night Comes For Us in North America.]

Will you and Kimo reunite?
I’m not going to leave my buddy behind, but Kimo’s a very family sort of guy [and for now I] see him making feel-good films.