Calling it "a low-budget Kiwi black comedy with an obvious nod to the works of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie" makes "You Move You Die" sound derivative and lame, and yet the film is actually a slick little gem, mixing directorial flourish with genuine wit. This is a movie that knows you've seen the premise before, so it opts to just kick back and have fun.
The gimmick of the movie is that the whole thing plays out in real time. It's certainly been done before, but watch how writer/director/star Ketzal Sterling brings a fresh perspective on the trick: the audience is literally brought along for the ride, with many scenes taking place as the cast literally drives from one location to the next. (And yes, it's more exciting than it sounds.) Filmed in real neighborhoods around Auckland, Sterling gets plenty of mileage, no pun intended, from simply letting his characters exist in genuine settings, while his fondness for long, unbroken steadicam shots allow the scenes to play out with a fresh, organic feel - all important in keeping the story grounded despite its outlandish crime caper elements.
The plot: Mike (Sterling) is jumped by a couple of amateur thugs, who steal both a valuable briefcase and the ring Mike just bought to propose to his girlfriend. What the thugs don't know is that Mike is a professional criminal, eager to resort to violence while retrieving his stash. The next ninety minutes are spent with Mike and his hothead pal Rob (Julian Harrison) encountering a string of colorful characters, outwitting cops, committing a few unnecessary murders, getting attacked by strangers, and generally carrying out a wide assortment of felonies.
We follow Mike in every scene from start to finish, so it's a good thing that Sterling is a charismatic star, quick-witted and devilishly charming, yet not so vain in his wears-all-the-hats capabilities (he also serves as producer and director of photography) that he's unwilling to share the glory. Sterling gives his co-stars most of the good material and allows himself to play the straight man, constantly getting upstaged by several of the one-scene minor characters who pop in and out of the story.
Sterling also has a knack for energetic dialogue and fast-paced storytelling that helps keep things flowing throughout the picture. One of the key ingredients in any solid "Lock, Stock" wannabe is smart writing, and Sterling's wordplay makes the film a success. (There's a great running gag involving Mike's penchant for making up vulgar insults; the film is delirious in its poetic profanity.) The short running time, intimate filming process, and real-time presentation ensure that the story is always plowing ahead with a steady rhythm, enjoying its oddball asides without letting them bog down the overall piece.
There are moments throughout - especially the finale - where things go in unexpected directions, but they do so not in an obvious, look-how-clever-we-are manner, but in a more winking, isn't-this-a-blast? style, one that pushes each plot turn into deliciously dark screwball territory. Working on the premise that comedies like this work best with the element of surprise, Sterling slaps us around with a large dose of sudden shake-ups, all of them wildly funny.
The film was shot on a microbudget in just five days, and at times, the seams show through, with the occasional bumpy moment or wooden actor. But that's ultimately not a problem, as the low budget gives the film a rough appeal that fits with its crude characters. As a do-it-yourself indie project, "You Move You Die" is a winner, using clever writing, inventive direction, and lively production to make up for any budgetary drawbacks.
Video & Audio
Although "You Move You Die" was shot on HD video, there's plenty of grain to be found in this anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Also, the colors are a bit too muted, and the picture has an overall softness. This all fits the movie's grungy appeal, and surely most of the iffy visual elements are due to the source material itself, yet one expects more from a film with an HD source.
The stereo soundtrack is vibrant, providing a fine blend of the film's chatter, effects work, and catchy, seemingly nonstop musical score. No subtitles are provided.
Sterling is our host on a nifty (and untitled) behind-the-scenes featurette (15:50), in which the filmmaker, sometimes accompanied by cast and crew, revisits the locations where the movie was shot, walking us through several of the film's key sequences. Other cast members appear in interviews discussing the logistics of long takes and low budgets. It's all presented in a lighthearted manner and covers all the bases of production, which mostly makes up for the fact that it's the only bonus offered on the disc. Presented in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic letterbox.
Far from just another Guy Ritchie knock-off, "You Move You Die" is a fresh, energetic caper with a charming low budget flavor and a distinct style all its own. Recommended to fans of the genre.