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Head Count Film Review: Maths Under Pressure

Kat has a gun pointed to his head in the film Head Count

With a stranger pointing his own gun at his head, Kat must find a way to retrace his steps and Head Count how many bullets are left in the chamber.

From the minds of the Burghart Brothers, Ben and Jacob, comes a Western-inspired comedy-drama that follows the gunslinging escapes of lovable rogue, Kat (Aaron Jakubenko). The film opens with a gun pointed at the temple of our main character – his own gun, in fact. But how many bullets are left in the chamber? Head Count tells Kat’s story through a series of flashbacks as he desperately attempts to answer that very question.

One of the highlights of the film comes from one of the earliest scenes, as we see Kat working as the final link in a chain gang – a prisoner of the Kansas Department of Corrections. When the glowing eyes of a mysterious beast start to haul the prisoners into a cornfield one by one, Kat manages to escape thanks to a close shave from the shotgun of a panicked guard. It comes as no surprise that the Burghart brothers have a background in short films, and even wrote a story based around this scene in particular. However, while that skill serves to elevate from scene to scene, it does leave things feeling a little choppy across the film in general.

The best decision the Head Count team made was undoubtedly hiring Aaron Jakubenko in the lead role. Anything short of a superb performance would have left Head Count with no bullets in the chamber, but the Aussie star manages to saddle up and carry the story on his back at times. Kat has the perfect blend of liability and roughness around the edges to earn the viewer’s gaze and keep them rooted to the edge of their seat. Where Head Count falls is the development of the supporting characters. Kat’s brother Hayes (Kyle Dyck) and former flame Jo (Melanie Zanetti) give us a little insight into his life before the chain gang but aren’t given nearly enough screen time for us to invest in them as characters.

With flashbacks flashing back within flashbacks, Head Count at times descends into a series of exciting shorts cut together in the editing room. Watched in isolation, Kat’s various heists, fights, and shootouts are exciting and rewarding, but they raise more questions than answers in the grand scheme of things. For a man who repeatedly assures us he is just looking for a way out, why does Kat have such a talent for dragging himself back in?

two characters dance and look at each other in the film Head Count
Head Count (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

The name and premise of Head Count revolve around the looming mystery of how many bullets are left in the chamber of the gun pointed at his head. While this is enough to entice us into watching the film, it is also the very thing that ultimately leaves us wanting more. The build-up to the old bullet question is so drawn out and suspenseful that it makes it almost impossible for Head Count to stick the landing. You can’t help but feel the number of shots in the chamber actually didn’t end up impacting Kat’s ultimate decision, leaving more than a few bullet holes in the plot.

Ultimately, Head Count is a superbly-made piece of cinema, with a well-cast, talented actor at its core. The scenes are expertly shot, and it remains stylistically fun to watch throughout, which is the ultimate point of an action-comedy. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what the film would have looked like as an 1800s Wild West-themed action shootout, leaning into the weird and the wacky for more comedic effect. Whatever the case, the Burghart Brothers clearly have a unique eye for storytelling and are sure to be back with something mouthwatering in the near future.

Get it on Apple TV

Head Count will be released on digital platforms in the UK on February 19, 2024. In the US, the film is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

Head Count: Trailer (Blue Finch Film Releasing)
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