KillJoy is a documentary about family homicide, told from the distinctive point of view of a child. What makes this film truly unique is that the story is told over thirty-three years, as the child grows into adulthood and grapples with the lifelong consequences of their father killing her mother. Today, Kathryn Joy is a person with an extraordinary story to tell. And tell their story they must, as they faces an existential crisis on the eve of surpassing their mother’s age.
This is a murder mystery: not because police doubted who killed Carolyn, but because as Kathryn grew, those around them maintained a silence about the person their mother was and how she died. It was literally a mystery Kathryn had to fight to unravel. And fight they did. At seventeen, Kathryn secretly gains access to a transcript of their father’s murder trial and learns the legal truth: how their father in the presence of infant Kathryn shot Carolyn once in the abdomen and twice in the head. Kathryn also steals a photo of their mother from their father’s bedroom, and finally knows what Carolyn looks like.
Kathryn’s father is no monster however, he is any man; a quiet, white-collar professional with no previous history of violence. Because Carolyn was having an affair, the defence of provocation was used to downgrade his murder charge to manslaughter. The all too familiar narrative of ‘the good bloke who snapped’ meant he served less than three years for killing Carolyn, a thirty-two year old mother of three young children.
But knowing the truth only made Kathryn’s situation more terrifying as they realised they were living alone with the man who killed their mother, in the house she was killed in. Extraordinarily, on his release Kathryn’s father resumes raising his three children. As Kathryn hits puberty, they begins to resemble Carolyn, and the relationship they have with their father takes a dramatic turn. KillJoy asks what access to his children Kathryn’s father should have had, and whether Carolyn’s affair makes Kathryn’s father less guilty? That’s certainly how the law saw it.
Children who have lost parents unnaturally young can struggle to conceive of living beyond the dead parent’s age. Carolyn’s death has shaped Kathryn’s life, and now it threatens to end it. As the day they will surpass their mother's age approaches, Kathryn suffers a bout of depression and insomnia and we ponder whether they will make it through. If Kathryn does survive, their story will be a beacon of hope for victims of family violence everywhere; that as difficult as it might be, one can survive through the tragedy and trauma and live a meaningful life, and even one of joy.
Though positive change is happening, the global tragedy of family homicide is not abating. In Australia we have one of the highest rates of amongst all developed nations. Yet there remains a lack of honest renditions of the topic within our screen media; a problem KillJoy seeks to address. In a reversal of the media’s propensity to obsess over male perpetrators, KillJoy instead privileges the victims’ point of view. Many characters in this film are women who are intimately tied to Kathryn’s story.
In Kathryn we have a unique character who is both articulate and courageous enough to tell this difficult story. And while KillJoy documents the life-long and devastating impacts of family homicide on the children, it is also a story of hope. KillJoy will ask the audience to engage in a critically important question: what is the story we as a society want to tell about domestic violence and family homicide?
The story KillJoy tells and how it tells it can ensure that an alternative to the ‘good-bloke who snapped’ narrative exists, that the children in cases of family homicide feel their experiences are valid despite their fragmented memory, and that women like Carolyn who die at the hands of their intimate partners weekly in Australia, are remembered as people, as women and as mothers first and victims second.
This is why this story matters now.