When, oh when, will filmmakers learn that it’s more fun to play a video game than watch a movie designed to resemble one? Following on the heels of last year’s resounding flop Hardcore Henry is Tim Smit’s feature Kill Switch, based on his 2009 short film that went viral. Starring Dan Stevens — who, judging by this and his FX series Legion, has clearly developed a taste for science fiction — Kill Switch is a visually imaginative but narratively incoherent exercise that provides viewers the unwelcome opportunity to feel what it’s like to watch a video game being played by someone else.
The bland central character in the futuristic tale is Will Porter (Stevens), a former NASA pilot/physicist struggling to care for his sister (Charity Wakefield) and her young son (Kasper van Groesen). Desperate for money, Will accepts a job working for the mysterious Alterplex Energy Corporation, which has created a parallel world, The Echo, for the purpose of satisfying Earth’s ever-growing energy needs. This being dystopic science fiction, things soon go wrong, and Will is given the assignment of traveling by a portal to The Echo and using a “redivider,” housed in a black box, to stabilize the system. Or something like that.
The film uses the gimmick of relating much of the story through Will’s perspective thanks to a handy helmet-cam computer. The result is that Stevens is physically absent for long stretches, although the actor dutifully narrates the proceedings in the American accent he seems to be using more frequently than his actual British one. The kinetic action set pieces involve his character being chased by drones, soldiers, and other menacing forces while navigating the alternate world that seems to be falling apart around him. During his mission, he gets injured — a lot. Fortunately, his outfit is equipped with a medical alert system providing such warning as “Concussion detected! Contact your local health office!” Viewers, unfortunately, are not given similar advice about the headaches bound to ensue while watching the film.
Omid Nooshin and C. Kindinger’s screenplay at least features periodic flashes of mordant humor, such as Will repeatedly running into people who are surprised to learn he’s not dead. The writing is less effective in fractured storytelling, with the frequent use of flashbacks impeding the narrative momentum while not adding anything particularly interesting.
As with so many actual video games, Kill Switch boasts undeniably striking, stylized visuals that are all the more impressive for being achieved on a limited budget. Stevens makes for an ingratiating hero, managing to sneak some humor into his portrayal (when he’s onscreen, at least), and Berenice Marlohe and Tygo Gernandt deliver appropriately enigmatic turns as shady Alterplex officials. But despite the efforts of everyone involved, you’ll find yourself wishing that Kill Switch came equipped with one.
Production companies: CTM Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, RainMaker Films, SquareOne Entertainment
Distributors: Saban Films, Lionsgate
Cast: Dan Stevens, Berenice Marlohe, Mike Reus, Bas Keijzer, Tygo Gernandt, Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Charity Wakefield, Kasper van Groesen, Mike Libanon
Director: Tim Smit
Screenwriters: C. Kindinger, Omid Nooshin
Producers: Denis Wigman, Sander Verdonk, Patrick Chu, Tim Smit
Executive producers: Aaron Ryder, Milan Popelka, Al Munteanu, Russell Geyser, Clay Pecorin, Thibaut Niels
Director of photography: Jacco Van Ree
Production designer: Romke Faber
Editor: Wouter Van Luijn
Costume designer: Foske Douze
Composer: Seven League Beats
Casting: Rose Wicksteed
Rated R, 91 minutes