Kill Switch Movie Review

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Danish visual effects supervisor Tim Smit took a gamble, taking his 2009 short film piece and expanding it into a full-length feature film in his directorial debut. Initially released in video-on-demand format with a limited theatrical release last week, how did Smit’s project fare? Read on for a review of Kill Switch!

Kill Switch is a creative twist on a cliché concept. Time travel and multiverse tropes have been explored in both television and film fairly extensively. Kill Switch jumped on the multiple universe bandwagon, and who can blame them? There’s a lot of potential there! The redeeming factor in Smit’s project is that it dove into the potential of the trope, by telling the story of how the new universe came to be. In a current political climate focused on renewable energy, Kill Switch is relevant to the issues of the world today. What if we could create another universe to pull unlimited energy from without hassle or harm? It’s a great concept to build from (even if, like all science fiction films, the futuristic technology goes predictably awry).

The plot of Kill Switch is promising. A new man-made universe designed to be devoid of organic life that will serve as an energy source for our world, but things don’t go exactly as planned… It sounds like a sci-fi hit. However, even a promising plot can be poorly executed. And that’s where the trouble with Kill Switch begins. An interesting concept was lost in the chaos of first person perspective, under-developed characters, and slow pacing. A great idea was put into action in a creative form, but that unique story-telling strategy was ultimately ineffective.

With a history in visual effects, it’s no surprise that writer/director Smit pursued the idea of telling the story using first person perspective, much like a video game. Merging movie fun with video game media is a high aspiration, and with the advancement of VR technology, there might be a future in it. But if Hardcore Henry taught us anything, it’s that first person perspective story-telling in movies isn’t fun to watch (yet). The concept works well for video games, where the player has control of where to look, where to go, and what to do. But that perspective without freedom to choose can get boring fast. We only want to be the hero (or the villain) if we have the freedom to act. If we lack the freedom, then most of us are perfectly content, as viewers, to watch the lead play the part. Kill Switch had some stunning special effects, especially considering its limited budget, and the undertaking of first person perspective was perfectly in line with video game expectations. Small details such as slowing down the action and movements during first person perspective shots for the viewer’s convenience is a sign of the expertise of the visual effects talent behind the camera. But we still lose the opportunity to watch the lead in action.

Losing the opportunity to watch the lead work is especially tragic in Kill Switch because we lose out on the wonder that is Dan Stevens. Ridiculously beautiful blue eyes aside, Stevens is an extremely talented actor, capable of selling his performances, sometimes without saying a word. Skilled enough to subtly express emotion or mood with body language and facial expressions alone, Stevens is a force to be reckoned with. (His work on Legion and Downton Abbey speaks for themselves.) But due to the first person perspective of much of the film, Kill Switch was never able to unleash the full force of Stevens in the most effective way possible. He did some commendable voice acting for the role, and the moments he was on screen were a treat, but he could have been so much more useful to the story in other ways.

By not employing Stevens fully, emotional connection to characters was difficult to establish. It is difficult to make a character appealing when the audience can’t even see them. Compounding the lead character problem is the lack of development of supporting characters and the relationships among characters. First person perspective forces interaction with the environment, but the strength of film projects generally doesn’t come from the environment. It comes from the characters interacting within that environment. With the lead character alone for some time, exploring the alternate universe to try to figure out what was happening, there was some difficulty getting into the story. (It’s not easy to get excited about watching someone search for a cell phone or first aid supplies.) Then, even worse, when new characters were introduced the audience was expected to get on board with the history between the characters with very little background information. Without emotional investment in the characters, the final choice that the lead character had to make lacked the intended impact. The “cost” of the decision should have been something the audience could empathize with, but lack of connection reduced the cost to negligible proportions. The resulting apathy is the opposite of the desired reaction a film-maker wants from the audience, yet apathy is what resulted from characters without character.

Kill Switch currently stands with a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.6/10 on IMDb. The film had a lot of potential with tools (story, technology, and talent) available to make it great, but it fell short of that greatness by a long-shot. No one really wants to dislike something fan favorite Dan Stevens is a part of, but Kill Switch stretches the love anyone has for Stevens (and first-person shooter games) beyond the breaking point. It is an unfortunate 91 minutes that could be spent actually playing and enjoying a video game instead of trying to watch one.


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