Review by Sean Boelman
A follow-up of sorts to their 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy, Simon Ardizzone, Russel Michaels, and Sarah Teale’s new exposé Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections comes at a good time as anxiety over the next election is mounting. A necessary and informative look at one of the country’s most prominent issues, this film is important viewing.
The movie follows hacker and cybersecurity expert Harri Hursti as he travels across the country exploring how election systems all over the United States remain open to interference and hacking. While this film admittedly would have been even more timely had it come out four years ago when this was even more prevalent in the news, it is obvious from the movie that this still needs to be a part of the discussion.
Although there are a few segments in the film that target specific politicians (including one aimed at Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp), the movie is much more focused on being critical of the electoral process in general. Hursti and the filmmakers purport that a majority of the country’s election security issues result from the fact that the polling process is not standardized.
Ardizzone et al. obviously want audiences to finish this film feeling shocked at the state of disarray that the government is facing, and for the most part, the movie is successful. The film is admittedly pretty one-note, but this also allows the filmmakers to focus entirely on the specific thing they want to say.
Of course, there are some portions of the movie that end up feeling more impactful than others. Interviews of people talking about election interference don’t make much of a splash because this type of footage can be seen in the news regularly. However, some of the film’s more unusual discoveries, like a stash of voting machines available for public purchase, get the message across more effectively.
Part of what makes Ardizzone, Michaels, and Teale documentary so effective is that they are able to explain the specifics of the issue in a way that is palatable to the general public. Hursti does an excellent job of simplifying the language he uses when talking about hacking and technology so that it is understandable but still technical enough to lend it a sense of legitimacy.
Additionally, the filmmakers edit the movie in a way that is consistently compelling. By giving the audience a single subject (Hursti) to follow as he interacts with different figures, there is a clear through-line that attaches the viewer to the narrative. As a result, rather than feeling like a series of segments about election hacking, it feels like an interconnected narrative.
Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections exists for one clear purpose, and it achieves that goal with ease. Audiences who see this film will watch it and be more informed about the way in which the government functions.
Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections debuts on HBO at 9pm ET/PT on March 26.