By Elias Savada.
There’s a lot of technical wizardry afoot in Dutch filmmaker Tim Smit’s feature directorial debut Kill Switch, an indie sci fi race-to-save-the-planet flick set in the depressing, dystopian future of March 24, 2043. Yeah, been there, done that. E.T. phoned home a long time ago in a much brighter time. Countless films and tv series have visited and revisited the stupid antics of earnest but misguided (mad) scientists and business titans and their overbearing support militias. Sadly, while this English-language flick has a nice, earthy District 9 and Robocop visual vibe, its central character’s crippling first-person video gamer gimmick dooms the film to critical purgatory and a very limited theatrical window. Like many of the digital explosions that rock the film’s soundtrack, bombs aweigh its short theatrical lifespan. It hit (and missed) a single multiplex for a single week in the DC area mid-June, on the day and date of its VOD release.
The dreary, helicopter-filled skies of Amsterdam overcast the new home of Will Porter (Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast fame), a physicist and NASA-trained pilot who has been hired by the massively secretive Alterplex Energy, a big company with a lot of enemies. Will, self-entrusted with caring for his sister (Charity Wakefield) and her traumatized son (Kaspar van Groesen) – no reason is given for the kid’s problems – also musters uncomfortable feelings toward his new employer. The conglomerate, through a series of cheeky commercials, has convinced everyone that Earth’s energy future is best served in its good, clean hands. That foolish confidence has allowed it to build a monstrous tower that sends a world-trembling beacon to an alternate version (or Echo) of our world. I’m not sure if that “impossible frontier” was there from the start or the company materialized it in a flash. “Duplicate matter,” is spouted forth as the basic science. Miraculously, this doppelganger has the same (although now mostly dead) people in it and looks identical, except the streets are excessively deserted of people. Oddly, the cars and bikes are mostly orderly parked, despite this being an evacuation zone.
Also, if you happen to travel from one to the other – as Will has done – all the printed words are inverted, like in a mirror, including those in the “ship” he used to travel to the replicated world. That voyage, for the few moments of screen time it takes, is hobbled together from visual artifacts found in 2001 and Contact. I was wondering which hand is used on this planet for the Pledge of Allegiance, or if they would talk funny, too, but that was not even an issue in the script by C. Kindinger and Omid Nooshin, based on Smit’s short film What’s in the Box? A Blue Tooth-style “brain computer interface” headset allows for repositioning of text in the cause of legibility.
When Will arrives on the other planet, he’s as perplexed as everyone watching the film. Its even-darker skies are filled with ammo-laden drones that blast away with shoot-’em-up abandon. The save-our-planet business plan is revealed via a series of flashbacks that offer Will’s storyline leading up to his current predicament. These ever-increasing sequences also offer the only views of Stevens’ character from outside his own helmet. The other main role is Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe (Skyfall), who comes off as either corporate flunky and lightly written rebel.
The inverted world is in a serious state of flux, emotionally and physically. What folks are not shot down by the video game antics are left to ponder the swirling holes of doom in the clouds that suck in all manner of animal, vegetable, and mineral. Then they spit out huge planes, trains, and automobiles (and ships) in awe-inspiring moments (a Smit trademark), trying to draw your focus away from the illogical plot, which centers around a small black eponymous cube called a redivider. It looks like something designed by Apple.
Despite the well-executed, low-budget special effects wizardry from Smit, the script’s lapses in logic and the singular helmet-cam viewing experience makes Kill Switch an eye-pleasing but mind-numbing, chaotic ride-along, without a controller stick. There is something fascinating in this film, but it can’t make up for all that’s wrong with it.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).