The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Handily my most anticipated film of Fantastic Fest 2023, Kill did not disappoint in its US Premiere with director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat in attendance.
It is my lifelong love of action cinema that finally got me to start dipping my toe into the mighty juggernaut of the Indian film industry. Stars like Vidyut Jamwal, Tiger Schroff, and Hrithik Roshan have been doing pretty incredible action work now for a decade or more, and when an Indian action film breaks out internationally it’s probably something that is now on my radar and that I’m interested in seeking out. It helps that filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli has also come along and delivered such global bangers as Bahubali and RRR, which truly ended up besting the action cinema coming out anywhere else in the world. So Indian action cinema is not only doing fine, it’s actually in a place where it’s schooling the whole world.
So, what’s the big deal about Kill then?
Kill is more like an Indian indie film, and while Indian action is already phenomenal, this is unlike anything I know of that is coming out of India. More in conversation with such cinematic bloodbaths as The Night Comes For Us or The Raid, Kill is lean, very mean, and stripped down to where there’s very little room for song and dance numbers. (I’ve actually really come around on the song and dance numbers India delivers, for what it’s worth). Nikhil (he introduced himself by his first name and pointed out you can’t say “Nikhil” without saying “Kill”) let us know that this is his very first action film and both wrote and directed the project. Unlike most action movie scripts which indicate an action scene but leave the details to the action team, Nikhil wrote out every single beat. He said the result was a practically unreadable screenplay, but it set the stage for the intricate choreography of the film.
Kill is also the latest entry in action cinema’s hallowed subgenre of “Die Hard On A …” movies! The Raid meets Die Hard On A Train is a reductive but not inaccurate way to describe Kill. So in a way, you know what you are in for; but what my review presupposes is: maybe you don’t. Nikhil made an honest plea to preserve spoilers in our coverage of the film and that will be easy enough to do. But there are some twists and turns that will shock and surprise even the most hardened action movie buffs.
Much like The Night Comes For Us before it, Kill is so bloody and brutal as to dabble into horror film territory. But the fun kind of horror, almost like a slasher film where our hero happens to be the unstoppable killing machine. Our super handsome lead is breakout actor Lakshya as Amrit. He’s a special forces commando who gets on the wrong train with his brother (also a commando) Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) and fiancee Tulika (Tanya Maniktala). Soon dozens of goons, who are essentially a massive family of robbers, begin to shake down the train and death and mayhem follow. If there’s anything to ding Kill for, it’s that there’s really no dimensionality to the plot here. But that just leaves room for the intricate and glorious fight choreography they’ve got in store for you. Perhaps the most fun element of Kill is that you’ve got an entire movie that deals exclusively in close quarters combat. The crew built a couple of train car sets that allowed for “Transformers”-like flexibility and created opportunities for truly memorable one-on-one and melee battle sequences confined to a hallway or a bunk bed cubby or a cramped bathroom stall. For all that claustrophobia, however, the action is crisp and clear. I do think at times the visual rhythm of Kill is so quick and trusts the viewer keep up, that at times I might have needed to catch up to exactly where we were on which train car, etc. But I suspect that has more to do with me than the filmmaking, as it’s really quite stellar.
There are a few specific details that really stood out for me, and which are largely spoiler free. Our villains are a surprising bunch, as they’re a massive crime family. When their ranks are dwindling, they’re truly shocked and traumatized, even as the clear villains of the film. Grown men are shown to cry and weep over the loss of their uncles, fathers, sons, etc. Over and over our villains are taking this personally and vowing vengeance. It’s a unique dynamic that honestly does add some humanity and tragedy to the whole affair. There’s also a title card drop here that caused our audience to erupt in applause, so keep an eye out. I’d also be remiss not to highlight leading man Lakshya. He has the kind of fresh-faced vibe that Iko Uwais brought to The Raid, but when he gets to killing, he does it confidently and frighteningly. I don’t know anything about this man but he’s wholly convincing as a life-taking commando with unending tricks up his sleeve (and seemingly an unending supply of blood pumping in his veins).
With a few kills that truly made my physical jaw drop open, and a few sequences that left our midnight crowd cheering and hollering, Kill very much lives up to the hype. Nothing will ever be The Raid ever again, but Kill earns its place in the conversation among the titles it pays homage to. Casual audiences will have little patience for the guts and gore, but action cinema fanatics already know they not only want to see this one, but need to prioritize it. I do wonder how Indian audiences will receive this film, or if its longevity and success will rely on it being embraced by the global market. But I suspect gorehounds the world round will embrace Kill with open, blood-soaked arms.
And I’m Out.