By: Trevor Chartrand
Kill Order is essentially a Crank film without the charisma or charm. It tries hard to be pulse-pounding and slick, but this punch-a-minute action flick is all fist and no fury. Given the film’s structure, it’s not surprising to learn writer/director James Mark has a lot of stunt department work on his resume, including action-driven films like Jumper and Pacific Rim. Kill Order favours style over substance, desperately stringing a series of clichés together to move his narrative from one action set piece to the next.
The film begins abruptly when David (Chris Mark), a high school outcast, awakens from disturbing dreams of human experimentation. Soon after, David is ‘triggered’ by armed assailants who threaten him and his classmates at school. He discovers untapped martial arts abilities as he easily makes waste of an entire police unit. Disturbed, David sets out to understand his newfound abilities, where they come from and why so many people want him stopped.
Interestingly, actor Chris Mark also happens to be director James Mark’s younger brother. As a family endeavour, this could easily be one of the more expensive home movies ever made. I picture big brother holding the camera while little brother shows off his karate training. There’s an unmistakable fan-film kind of feel to Kill Order due to its focus on elongated sparring sequences. It’s as if the filmmakers are experimenting with visual effects and choreography as a practice run for a later project with more substance.
Despite their background in stunts, the fight choreography isn’t as seamless as it could be. The action is tightly edited for the most part, but camera placement could certainly have been considered more carefully. In a few scenes, it’s all too obvious that the punches and kicks aren’t really connecting with their intended targets. The final film does look polished overall, with a campy, over-the-top tone.
The characters and performances really leave something to be desired in this film, especially David’s love interest, May (Jessica Clement). May could have made the characters relatable, since her relationship with David is the closest we get to establishing a human connection in the film. Unfortunately, she literally takes a backseat to the action, standing idly by during an elongated fight sequence. She isn’t given anything to do but sit back, watch, and cheer David on. The character is underutilised as what could have been the heart of the film.
David’s pursers also fail to engage as strong antagonists. These villains tracking David down are the suit-wearing, sunglass toting, bland faced bad guys you’ve seen countless times before. And just like the evil agents in The Matrix, no menacing ensemble is complete without the earpieces. The look may be right, but the same intimidation factors are missing. Instead, these generic villains are plain and uninteresting, lacking passion in their lifeless performances. A stronger antagonist could have easily helped make this film much more memorable.
Kill Order is actually a very sweet film if you consider it as the product of two brothers working together to support each other’s careers. Both of them have been pinned down in stunts for years, and they’ve taken licence to expand their skill set with this film – it’s a big gamble and certainly a noble effort. With James taking a stab at writing and directing, he’s made it clear he’s not afraid to step outside his comfort zone and try something new. They say write what you know, and coordinating stunt sequences is where his background lies. There’s a lot of heart visible in the work and, as a first try, he’s certainly made a valiant effort. Unfortunately, even the most impressive action sequences are meaningless without characters the audience can understand or care about.
There’s plenty of room for growth for the Mark brothers, and with such a strong familial support system, there’s also a lot of potential for their careers to develop and flourish.
Kill Order screens at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival on Friday, November 24 at 7:00 p.m. at Toronto’s The Royal Cinema.
For more information on the festival, visit the official BITS webpage here.
Buy tickets here.
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