Review by Daniel Lima
The opening scene of Kill Shot is hypnotic and tense, following the handoff of a briefcase of drug money deep in the mountains of Afghanistan. Captured in a series of long takes, this opener follows the briefcase from a heroin operation, to the hands of a little girl, to paramilitary operatives. It plays out almost entirely in silence, with drone cinematography that captures the sparse, remote expanse the characters find themselves in. There is attention to details that normally get ignored in low budget indies like this: composition, framing, even the quiet sound design that forces the audience to lean in. This scene announces the film as punching well above its meager budget.
Then the rest of the movie happens.
Rib Hillis stars as a hunting guide who discovers the briefcase while out with a client, played by Rachel Cook in the Montana wilderness. Taking the money, the two must make their way back to civilization, while avoiding the mercenaries out to retrieve it. A tried-and-true action movie formula that this film makes unbearably tedious.
Perhaps the most obvious problem is the script. The unfolding narrative is the kind of dull, trite material you might get by banging your hand on a keyboard for a few hours, but even more dire is the dialogue. Every word that comes out of the actors’ mouths is atrocious, the kind of jocular, juvenile trash that makes anyone who has aged out of adolescence wince in embarrassment. If it’s not a joke about women being whores, it’s faux tough guy machismo, manifested in rattling off basic gun specifications like its secret knowledge or... well, jokes about women being whores. It feels like the product of an AI being fed issues of Maxim from 2005.
It bears emphasis that even by action cinema standards, Kill Shot takes particular glee in belittling women. The fact that in the opening credits, the men are shown in tough guy hero poses, and the women are shown in states of undress, is an early indicator of what to expect. Without exception, the female characters are depicted as innately untrustworthy, constantly objectified, and holding value as people only insofar as they can perform tasks seen as traditionally masculine, or gratifying men. Rachel Cook, easily the best actor of the ensemble, bears the brunt of all this, spending much of her screen time without pants or a shirt, the camera constantly leering at her. It might sound like performative pearl-clutching, but the toxicity of this film would be jarring even if it were decades old.
One would hope that if you can’t enjoy time spent with the characters, at least the set pieces would be up to par. Unfortunately, this is easily some of the worst action of the year. The moment the shooting starts, it’s the same rote shot/reverse shot affair that plagues many a direct-to-video production, but Kill Shot takes things a step further. Not only does the film fail to establish distance and geography, it also breaks the 180 degree rule constantly, completely throwing off any sense of where anyone is in a space. The editing is so choppy, it completely blunts the rhythm of any scene. Showing your hero doing a fast tactical reload, then cutting to two different people shooting at him, before cutting back to the hero completing the reload, is certainly a choice. It becomes a chore to watch these scenes immediately, and they make up the bulk of the second half of the film.
The fights are marginally better, with it being clear that the actors are performing their own stunts. It’s also clear that they are untrained in screen fighting, with incredibly slow, clumsy movements failing to ever sell the hits. The choreography does them no favors, being much more complicated than the performers can handle, and the camerawork and editing never generate the energy that could carry a fight like this despite a lack of training. It’s a pitiful enough effort that I found myself wishing to get back to the shootouts.
The rejoinder to all this is that shooting action on production like this, obviously limited in time and budget, is hard. While that is certainly true, there are plenty of examples of similar works, or even works with more meager resources, that have accomplished far more: Dead Reckoning (Scott Adkins, not Tom Cruise), Contour, everything out of Wakaliwood. Those films have many qualities that this one lacks: basic filmmaking craft, decent scripts, performers who can actually handle the choreography, interesting set piece design that utilizes the limited resources to the fullest. More than anything, they have a clear passion for action cinema — an obvious love that can carry an audience through the rough parts that come with the territory on a low budget production.
Passion is something that Kill Shot sorely lacks. It is a bland, soulless, by-the-numbers product that ultimately only distinguishes itself in how ugly it can be, without ever being interesting. That a film can devolve so much from its first scene onward is downright chilling. If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it's that the fundamentals of the craft should never be ignored. It is not a lesson worth sitting through something so insipid and putrid.
Kill Shot hits VOD August 15.