Director: Rodger Griffiths
Screenwriter: Rodger Griffiths
Starring: Brian Vernel, Daniel Portman, Calum Ross, Paul Higgins
Having its world premiere at the 2023 edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), Rodger Griffiths’ Kill marks the feature film debut for the director. Loosely based on his 2017 short film Take The Shot, Kill asks the question of whether or not stretching out a short film idea into a feature can work.
The story follows three brothers who decide to murder their father after years of abuse and the eventual death of their mother, which they suspect to be at the hands of the family patriarch. However, the boys are soon racked with guilt, causing some infighting, and when they discover that their father’s body has been excavated from his grave, paranoia begins to set in.
What is an admittedly excellent premise sadly fails to engage from early on. With the murder of the dad, Don (Paul Higgins), happening only minutes into the film, there is very little time to explore the dynamic amongst the group in great depth, instead introducing each member of the family through a single key characteristic; Don is an aggressive and abusive father to the boys, the oldest brother (Daniel Portman) has inherited his dad’s aggression, the middle brother (Brian Vernel) is indecisive and repressive of his thoughts and feelings, and the youngest brother (Calum Ross) is the father’s favourite and finds himself under his thumb. It is an interesting dynamic for sure, but one that isn’t given enough time to flourish before the narrative begins to progress.
Kill often feels uneven or, worse, uninteresting. Time is given to the characters and their dynamic – especially in flashbacks used primarily to illustrate the extent of abuse the brothers suffered at the hands of their father – but it lacks nuance. The biggest casualty of this is the dad himself, Don, who is played fairly well by actor Paul Higgins but lacks substance. He is hardly difficult to dislike given his position in the narrative, but the lack of exploration regarding his relationship to his family makes it difficult to care and causes you to question the decisions of the filmmakers.
Higgins is not the only performer to suffer at the hands of the screenplay, with both Daniel Portman and Calum Ross bringing strong performances that are ultimately all for naught. Whereas the paranoia of Portman’s character could create a tense dynamic in the group and thus a point for narrative tension, his anger is instead one dimensional. There comes a point in the film where it is revealed that he sacrificed animals in an attempt to bring their mum back to life, which not only comes out of left field but is almost never brought up again throughout the rest of the film, working only to intensify the lack of coherence present in the script.
Unlike the rest of the cast, Brian Vernel is not outperforming his material and is arguably underperforming it. Although his character certainly suffers at the hands of the same issues present in the rest of the screenplay, Vernel plays perhaps the best character. As the film’s protagonist, Vernel has an interesting journey, one which sees him go from the black sheep of the family to a much more confident character by the end. Sadly, Vernel does not have the acting chops to truly bring the character to life or to raise the quality of the material. Throughout the picture he appears to give little effort and frankly seems unconvincing with any of the emotion needed to convince us of his reality.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Kill is that, come the final act, the film improves massively. Suddenly the situation has found its intrigue again and the dynamics between the characters come to fascinating climaxes that leave you with with more positivity towards the film than could have been the case. It is a shame that it’s all too little too late.
It seems as though Rodger Griffiths had a very clear vision in his head, one that he just about manages to pull off by film’s end. Sadly, it is in the first and second acts that the struggles take hold. Together, these filmmakers tried to stretch a short film out into a feature, and they were ultimately undermined by all of the issues and teething problems apparent in this process.
Kill is a film with an interesting concept, one that could have succeeded with a little more fine tuning, but it ultimately fails due to its lack of depth in both the characters and the overall screenplay. What could have been a fascinating debut leaves us only disappointed with what could have been.