Kill (2023) is a non-stop thriller that weaves an intricate tale of family, coercion and trauma into its relentless rampage of revenge.
Family isn’t always easy, and Kill is a story that truly understands that concept stronger than most. Daniel Portman, Calum Ross, and Brian Vernal play three volatile brothers who find themselves bonded together by the abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of their violent father (Paul Higgins), ultimately coming together to lure him into the woods and get rid of him for good. This is all established within the very first moments of Kill, which jumps straight into the action and doesn’t spare any time introducing these characters’ backstories or intentions, but rather unravels them slowly and meticulously across the remaining 90 minutes of non-stop action.
This bold decision to open in medias res works entirely to Kill’s benefit, as the audience is left constantly wondering how these brothers have found themselves in this position and making it easy to understand and connect with them through a series of flashbacks and revealed secrets. The film is always exposing new layers of a more complex whole, but it knows how to do this with enough restraint and control to make everything accessible and entertaining. It also helps that Rodger Griffiths’ story is just as dense thematically as it is narratively, weaving in some surprisingly poignant and personal commentary on abusive relationships and toxic masculinity.
Kill might struggle to combat accusations of being too dialogue-heavy and loosely written at times, but that actually helps in making these brothers feel like real humans with complex emotions and dynamics instead of just words on a page. Everything feels natural and believable in the face of a story that’s admittedly over-the-top and melodramatic at times, but the character work is strong and really helps explain why these brothers have reached the point they’re at. It’s not always as revolutionary or provocative as it’s trying to be – the characterization of these siblings’ abusive father is nothing that hasn’t been done countless times before – but it’s the way Griffiths blends these ideas so effortlessly with such a high-stakes thriller that makes Kill stand out from the crowd.
Even without these deeper ideas, Kill is still immense both in ambition and cinematic vision. In spite of the evidently low budget and production restrictions, the film has moments that are just as gripping and intense as anything you’d find in a Hollywood feature. That’s mostly thanks to Griffiths’ ability to quickly build up the momentum of a scene with plenty of quick cuts, inventive angles, and frequent use of handheld cameras to really place the audience into this experience. The lead performances, particularly from Daniel Portman, are filled with so much emotion and vulnerability that it’s surprisingly easy to forget you’re watching a fairly low-budget project. They bring this story to life, and it just wouldn’t work without them or their emotional chemistry
The only notworthy issue with Kill is its tendency to repeat the same ideas several times, in exactly the same way. As the brothers begin to lose each others’ trust once their plan inevitably goes wrong, it’s the same arguments that are brought forward time and time again – which is clearly intended to display just how much they’re being torn apart by this traumatic situation, but there was a level of detail and diversity that was just lacking after a certain point, and it becomes difficult to care about the same issues when they’re presented as brand new each time. The film mostly overcomes this issue by distracting the audience with its breakneck pace, but the flaw becomes more noticeable as time goes on and these relationships fail to develop fully.
Overall, Kill was another strong surprise that continues the festival’s trend of hiding its most moving, thoughtful stories beneath the disguise of a simple narrative. It’s so disarmingly honest and powerful in a way that subverts all genre expectations, proving that you don’t need an intrinsically sad narrative in order to draw some real emotional and thoughtfulness from it – the endless intricacies of life and its tragic injustices are complex enough to do that for you.
Kill premiered at the 2023 Edinburgh Film Festival in August. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Edinburgh Film Festival!