6/16/2017

Review: Netflix's 'Kill Switch' Starring Dan Stevens


I'm in the minority of those who really dug Hardcore Henry, the balls-to-the-wall first-person shooter flick from a couple of years ago. It got what so many of Hollywood's other video game movie get wrong, which is to thrust you fully into the environment so that it's like your experience, and not like you're just watching a video game demo reel. Unfortunately, Kill Switch, an original sci-fi flick on Netflix, doesn't immerse you in its futuristic world at all. And worse, it wastes the skills of red-hot leading man, Dan Stevens.

It make absolutely zero sense to place Stevens, who is already popular thanks to Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast, FX's Legion, and killer genre flick The Guest, in a role where you almost never see him. The first-person narrative dulls his charisma and relegates him to reactionary comments, usually after avoiding gun fire or getting punched in the face. You could have put a dancing bear in his role and nobody would have noticed.

To the credit of director Tim Smit, the film looks incredible. He achieves with a small budget roughly the same impressive visual appeal seen in Neill Blomkamp's debut, District 9. If only there was a better, more engaging story to work with. An expansion of Smit's 2009 short film, the plot is actually quite nifty. A secret but powerful organization (they've basically replaced the government, it seems) have created a parallel universe to use as a permanent energy. But things go terribly awry, and Will (Stevens), an ex-NASA pilot/physicist, has been hired to jump into this copy world, known as The Echo, and take a mysterious cube to a shimmering tower of light and fix everything. Sounds easy enough, except for all of the flying drones trying to shoot holes into him, or the rebel factions out to kill those responsible, or the many people he keeps running into that he knows, all with shady agendas.

If you've played even five minutes of Halo then you will be unimpressed by the Heads-Up Display (HUD) that lights up Will's perspective. When he gets hurt, the HUD flashes red, or informs him that he has a concussion, as it does numerous times throughout. The action level is never quite as high as it should be to justify the first-person view, and so it feels too often like we're watching somebody play an RPG, which is boring as Hell. Maybe others will get nauseous, but I want that out-of-control sensation, and to be honest the film needs it. Why make a first-person movie and take it easy? What's the point? The only chance Stevens has to really do something resembling acting is during the frequent flashbacks, where we see him interact with his ailing sister (Charity Wakefield) and homesick nephew. They don't add much to the story other than to try and give us something about Will to care about, but he doesn't seem to care much when they're around. Nor do we.

I've come to respect Hardcore Henry more now because it went for broke, while Kill Switch soft pedals its way through a style it doesn't need and certainly isn't the right vehicle for Stevens.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5