One would think that a film with the monosyllabic title of Kill would be a simple, straightforward film. And this barebones, micro-budget Canadian horror film is certainly that. Unfortunately, the combined strains of its miniscule resources and cast of mostly first time actors cause it to be, though a creditable effort, ultimately a failure.
The premise is basic and familiar: six young people, three men and three women, wake up in a strange house, with no memory of how they got there. All are dressed in white tee shirts and slacks, with no shoes. At first they are bewildered, unsure of what is going on. Soon, however, they begin to realize that they are trapped in the house, and the subjects of an insidious game in which they must attempt to kill one another. The survivor is promised their freedom, and to be reunited with their loved ones.
While it doesn't take long for tensions to start showing, it does take a curiously long time before any real violence ensues. One would expect at least one person to immediately start the cold calculations of how best to murder his compatriots, but it doesn't happen. Instead they make ineffectual efforts to break out of the house, and without a second thought eat a sumptuous meal prepared for them by their mysterious hosts. (Oh, a note was left assuring them that the food is "fine", so no worries about poison or drugs, then.) People start to crack under the pressure, and fights break out, even a half hearted stabbing, but Lord of the Flies this is not.
And then there are the half naked guys wearing huge papier-mâché Tiki masks. The nominal captors, when things aren't moving quickly enough in the house, they slip in to deliver notes, inject folks with hypodermic needles, and generally terrorize the household. The whole thing is being recorded on closed circuit television, and the captors often speak to and taunt their captives via loudspeaker.
There are a few problems overall with Kill. First, the performances are not great. On the included commentary, writer / directors Philip Carrer and Chad Archibald state that, with the exception of one of their regular actors, this is the first film for the entire cast. While the performances get better as the film goes on, they are never able to reach the emotional levels one would expect from a normal person trapped in a house and ordered to kill others in order to escape. The second issue devolves from the obviously microscopic budget. The doors and windows are covered with cardboard and particle board, and the audience is led to believe that they have been bricked over with a single shot, lasting only a few seconds, of some cinder blocks through a mail slot. Regardless of this, the captives don't go to nearly the lengths to get out of the house that one would presume would be normal. Simply contemplating for a few moments oneself being in a similar situation conjures up images of bashing at doors with tables and chairs and whatever is available. And it's not as if there isn't hefty material around to use. A heavy wooden shield and metal sword (belonging to the suit of armor in the living room) are introduced in the first act, and the house is furnished like a normal contemporary home, with all the normal furniture and utensils, including lit candles.
And this leads to the third big problem, namely one of writing. The characters as presented seem to act based on a flawed understanding of human psychology. These people simply don't act like normal human beings would. Much more hysteria and desperation are called for. Every few minutes, the viewer is asking himself "Why are they doing this?" or "Why aren't they doing that?" Even within the horror genre, even when characters are clichéd or archetypal, the audience can generally find some way to empathize with what they are watching, and imagine themselves doing something like it. That is very difficult to do with Kill.
This is not to say that Kill doesn't have its good qualities. The blood and gore effects are actually quite well done, and they don't scrimp when it comes to spraying blood. There is at least one good jump scare, and a few moments of real tension, though these dissipate rapidly once the Tiki men make their appearance. They are simply too goofy looking to inspire much dread. Kill does have a sense of verve that is missing in a lot of low budget horror films, and a feeling that the producers are doing what they love, and are mostly hampered by their low budgets and other constraints.
But ultimately, the film does not succeed. While there are some scares, no sense of fear or tension is maintained. The production limits are too apparent and distracting for the viewer to become submerged in the experience and enjoy it without being pulled out of the illusion every few minutes. Though it is a worthwhile effort, this one is a rental only.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks good, but not great. There is persistent aliasing throughout, and a lot of grain visible. The grain isn't too much of a problem, as it highlights the very lo-fi feel of the film, and they do have a lot of rich reds contrasting nicely with the white outfits when we see blood or gore.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and works fine. The dialogue is always clear (probably because the entire film was redubbed in post production) and no hiss or other problem can be heard. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
Aside from the normal Troma related extras, there are only a short trailer and a commentary track as far as special features. The commentary with writer / directors Philip Carrer and Chad Archibald is fairly interesting, though be forewarned that they don't start talking for about 18 seconds, and it at first seems that there was an error and the track wasn't recorded. Carrer and Archibald are conversational and moderately engaging. They tell a lot of anecdotes about the production, which was done very quickly in an occupied house with almost no money. One interesting fact is that all of the dialogue had to be redone in post production, as noted above, and one actress' voice was replaced because she was not available at the time. There is a lot of instruction here for folks interested in the possibilities of ultra-low budget filmmaking.
Even though Kill has more enthusiasm than a lot of independent horror films, it is not exuberant to overcome the many, many obstacles presented by their lack of budget. The characters and story aren't compelling enough to truly draw in the audience, and the flaws too distracting. While this is a good effort, it isn't enough for true success.