‘Kill’ is about the monsters within us. Sure, it starts off with a love story between the noble army commando Amrit (Lakshya) and feisty Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), but that’s just a motivational plot device for our hero to lose all the righteousness of a hero. The real journey starts the second we get on the Rajdhani Express, which takes very little time to transform into a high-speed bullet train to hell.
Fani (Raghav Juyal) is the menacing leader of a group of 40 bandits ready to rob the train blind. Unfortunately for him, commando Amrit Rathod and his army buddy Viresh are on the train. Unfortunately for them, so is Tulika and her whole family. Viresh, much to Amrit’s dismay, impulsively kills one of Fani’s men, making a professional gig personal for our bad guy. He rhythmically moves around the train, swiftly murdering passengers one after the other, until he reaches Tulika and her influential father. Jackpot.
The plot is admittedly thin, but an extreme action film like ‘Kill’ doesn’t have space for more than a simplistic storyline. The romance may lack the chemistry to be compelling, it still works just well enough as a setup to the conflict that is at the center of the film. It is a battle between Fani’s ambition and Amrit’s need for justice, both of which get more and more warped as the carnage escalates. And this carnage is really what Nikhil Nagesh Bhat does best. Each fight scene feels like a new level in a video game, with a new setting, a stronger sense of urgency, and a wilder murder than the last one you haven’t recovered from yet. The camera captures each flying knife, gush of blood, look of fear in the tiny, claustrophobic space of a train wagon.
The whole premise is highly dependent on the actors’ performances. Putting this weight on the shoulders of such fresh talent is a risky move that has paid off handsomely. Raghav Juyal is such an unexpected choice for the villain, but seeing him teach Tulika how to use a knife, ruthlessly stab anyone on a whim, or make morbid cricket and Bollywood references you don’t doubt his casting for a second. His lean stature is no hindrance to the amount of intimidation he manages to exude. It’s not just the facial expressions or dialogue that convince you that Fani is unhinged, it’s his whole body language.
Lakshya plays the principled, honourable hero with Amrit. He has great physicality, and he really rises to the challenge of the complex action choreography given to him. The film makes a conscious choice to not paint Amrit as a hero, because his journey in the film is about turning into a monster. Lakshya though, is such a natural action star, that some scenes beg for hero lighting, a catchy dialogue, and some wind in his hair. This isn’t that kind of movie, but Lakshya makes you believe he is that kind of star.
A good gore film doesn’t simply mean a lot of blood. It means creating an aesthetic out of the gruesome violence being portrayed on screen. While the action choreographers (Se-yeong Oh and Parvez Shaikh) delivered on this note, the makeup/special effects department felt lacking innovation. When your action choreographers have the actors flinging knives into heads, down throats, effortlessly slicing faces and stomachs, the makeup’s goal is to go beyond just realistic, it’s to be visually interesting. Everyone can figure out how to use a squib, but only a few understand how to use it to create onscreen magic. Random blood splatters and generic gushes of blood could’ve been taken further. If a crucial scene needs dummies of the actors, they need to be executed well and lit to hide any flaws. Most of this isn’t a complete deal breaker to be fair, but it can be the difference between a good experience, and an immersive one.
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‘Kill’ isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s only for people who think seeing a fictional man’s skull get crushed against a toilet seat might be an experience they are onboard with.
‘Kill’ is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2023, as a part of the Midnight Madness program.