Director: Tim Smit
Cast: Dan Stevens, Bérénice Marlohe, Tygo Gernandt, Charity Wakefield, Mike Libanon, Kasper van Groesen
MPAA Rating: (for language and some violence)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 6/16/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 15, 2017
The majority of Kill Switch is shot from the first-person view of the story's protagonist. Ignoring the inherent shortcomings of dramatic storytelling that arise from this formal choice, it must be said that first-time director Tim Smit is at least attempting to adjust for the technical limitations of taking such an approach.
A movie camera in motion doesn't quite reflect the way we see the world, especially if said camera is attached to a human body in motion. It will, inevitably, shake in some way, which is not how the brain registers movement (As evidence, I present the fact that getting out of bed in the morning doesn't make us feel like vomiting from motion sickness). Simple shots from a subjective point of view—looking straight ahead or with some smooth movement—are fine in this regard, because we can accept the convention for a short time and/or from a stable position. It's the presentation of action—walking, a head turning in every direction, and, most problematic, running—that usually causes the problem.
Forget audience members with motion sensitivity issues for a moment (The filmmakers trying these experiments usually do). It simply doesn't look right.
Smit appears to understand this fact, and his direction of the movie's lengthy first-person sequences reflect that. The hero moves—a lot. He walks. He turns his head in every which direction. The camera still shakes a bit, but only in the corners of the frame (Sometimes it's intentionally shakier, using plenty of digital effects to give the picture a fuzzy or hazy look whenever the protagonist is dazed or injured). That's because Smit and cinematographer Jacco van Ree actually care about our ability to see and comprehend what's happening on screen (Imagine that).
Some sacrifices have to be made, of course. For example, our hero Will (Dan Stevens) never technically runs. He kind of trots along as he's chased by men with automatic weapons and military-style drones with machine guns and rocket launchers (Those rockets, which implode before exploding, are one of movie's neater creations, which is saying something). Because of his pace, the other characters have to keep up—or, better, slow down. This leads to a handful of shots of actors looking a bit confused about how to play fleeing for their lives while being hindered to maintaining a comfortable jog.
A lot of the action is fairly static, too, such as a lengthy shot of Will taking on one of those drones in a one-on-one gunfight while standing perfectly still. The decision is for visual clarity, obviously, but not just for our benefit. It's also so that Smit, whose past career focused on visual effects, can show off the digital effects (He also served as the movie's supervisor in that department). A lot of this feels like an extended demo reel, really, and it's easy to start to feel as if Smit's choices have less to do with the audience and more to do with making sure everyone can see all the effects work.
The story, which is a theoretically simple but unnecessarily complicated chase plot, helps to fortify that opinion. It's set in an undisclosed future, in which a mega-corporation has discovered a way to provide energy to the planet for millennia. They've found a way to make an exact copy of the entire universe, and a giant tower in the real universe will convert the mass of the duplicate universe into energy. Will, a former Air Force and NASA pilot, is enlisted by the company to enter the copied universe and plug a cube into its tower, which should stabilize any unforeseen anomalies that may result.
The major complication is that the alternate universe, which is supposed to be sterile, also contains duplicates of organic life—including humans. They're mad about this, of course, so the replicated corporation's security force is killing anyone it comes across. Eventually, this includes Will, who officially died in an attack on the company's transportation facility, as well as Abigail (Bérénice Marlohe), his boss, and Michael (Tygo Gernandt), who used to work for the company but became part of a rebel group against it.
Some flashbacks (shot so that we can actually see our hero) reveal that Will had some qualms about his mission on account of family issues, but that's about the extent of the character. We can't see him during the important section of the story, which is another problem with the first-person thing, so we have little to no reason to care about anything he's doing. This makes Kill Switch little more than a showcase for Smit's control of the camera and the visual effects. It looks fine enough, but looking fine enough can't be the extent of an entire movie.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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