When it comes to DTV/VOD releases, there are certain criteria that will pique my interest. Normally it’s down to who directed the film. If it has a Jesse V. Johnson, William Kaufman or Steven C. Miller at the helm, it’s typically a must see. The other is dependent on who the star is. If the likes of Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor or Michael Jai White feature, there’s a level of expectation which most of the time, if not always, is reached.
What makes it more difficult is when a DTV movie comes along from people you are so far unaware of. With no prior knowledge of their previous work, it becomes difficult to generate a level of excitement. Sure, a well put together trailer can help, but how many times have you seen an exciting trailer only to be disappointed when watching the film.
Even so, it’s not the first time I have gone in blind to a film and it has proceeded to exceed all expectations. With this in mind I entered into director Ari Novak’s Kill Shot which comes courtesy of Well GO USA.
The film opens in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan, where we follow a young girl’s tiring journey of delivering a briefcase of money to a group of men in an armored truck. Not long after the truck is attacked and the briefcase stolen.
After this the film jumps to America where we are introduced to hunting guide Jackson (Rib Hillis) halfway up a mountain. We quickly find out that Jackson is hiding away from his past, with him spending all his time as a guide to take his mind off the death of his daughter. His continued absence from home leads to his wife cheating on him.
Clearly this is so he can get rid of the wife and strike up a relationship with someone else. And wouldn’t you know it, only the next day he meets the lovely Kate (Rachel Cook) who hires him to be her hunting guide. Their trip seems to be going fine until Jackson stumbles on a briefcase full of money, the same case shown during the opening moments of the film.
Deciding to keep the case for themselves, it’s not long until others come looking for it. Now Jackson and Cook have to survive a battle against a team of mercenaries in order to make it to safety.
As mentioned, I wasn’t exactly aware of anyone involved in the production. Even upon checking on the filmography of director Ari Novak, none of his previous work rang a bell. With titles like Timber the Treasure Dog (2016), Sk8 Dawg (2018) and PawParazzi (2019) I can understand why they may not have been brought to my immediate attention. Judging by those titles alone it would seem that Kill Shot is a step above, however after watching the film I’m not sure by how much.
Clearly Kill Shot was a low budget production, so I wouldn’t judge the film too harshly on that front. The real issues with the film come more from a lackluster script, poor pacing and even poorer action scenes. I normally enjoy films that set a lone hero in the wilderness against a variety of opponents. Obviously one of the best is First Blood (1982), but they don’t even have to be close to that level of quality for me to gain some enjoyment from them. Even DTV fare like The Marine 4: Moving Target (2015) has enough entertainment value to keep me going.
Even something Like The Marine 4 is too high a benchmark for Kill Shot to reach. I wasn’t expecting the film’s script to be award worthy, but the dialogue and scenarios had me rolling my eyes on numerous occasions. Characters act increasingly stupid, but only at times when it serves the plot.
When it comes to the plot, there’s not much to talk about. After Jackson uncovers the case, the remainder of the film is essentially a meandering series of scenes where characters walk through the woods whilst pointing their guns at anything that moves. Now and again the filmmakers come up with a reason for Cook to flash her ass to the camera in the hope of keeping us red blooded males interested. Honestly, the extremes the filmmakers go to to keep this poor girl in her underwear is laughable. But as attractive as Cook is, these scenes do nothing to heighten the film’s pace.
The pace is further harmed by the film’s attempt at filling out Jackson’s backstory. Even though we have already been told the same information through dialogue, Novak includes unnecessary flashback scenes. Not only do these scenes look cheaper than the rest of the film, they only seem to be included to pad out the run time. It is admirable that Novak along with co-writer and star Rib Hillis try to make the main character a bit more 3 dimensional, but for the most part it seems ill conceived.
I could forgive some poor writing and unnecessary scenes if the action made up for them. Many action films have been saved from these issues with the inclusion of awesome action scenes. It is easy to forgive certain drawbacks when your pulse is racing due to the action on display.
I would like to say that Kill Shot was able to do the same, but for the most part the action is seriously under par, with the shootouts failing to generate the necessary excitement and the hand to hand fights lacking any impact. One particular fight scene between Rachel Cook and Mara O Hara should have been left on the cutting room floor, with Cook’s supposed fight skills being seemingly non-existent. This is all the more laughable when earlier in the film Hillis asks where she learned to fight like that? I have honestly seen more deadly fights in school.
One of my main grievances with low budget actioners is the use of digital gunfire. For the most part it looks awful. Even so, I understand that due to budget limitations and the ever increasing danger of using blanks on set, it’s the only way to go. With Kill Shot it would appear they didn’t even think they needed digital gunfire, with there being loud sound effects of gunfire but nothing appearing from the muzzles. The choreography of the shootouts additionally just leads to confusion, which coupled with some poor editing choices makes most of the action incomprehensible.
At least some of the photography is nice, with the beautiful Montana scenery adding to the film’s production values. Admittedly the clearly digital look of the film doesn’t exactly assist with proceedings, but that has mostly become the norm with DTV/VOD films in this day and age.
Leading man Rib Hillis certainly looks the part of the action hero. He equips himself well and throws himself into the action scenes he is given. With him being the co-writer, he has given himself the better of the main roles, with his character being more rounded than the rest. He does well in the action scenes he is given, with him appearing to do the majority of his own stunts. This makes up somewhat for the blandness of the character.
Clearly Kill Shot is something of a labor of love for Hillis, as not only does he star and co-write he additionally produced and was assistant director. I would expect from this level of involvement he would have crafted a better starring vehicle, but it would appear that he, along with Novak over extended their reach.
While Hillis’ work here may not lead to him becoming anyone’s favorite DTV action star, he certainly fares better than Rachel Cook who was clearly cast based on her looks. Her acting isn’t terrible, but for the most part she is just asked to either be a damsel in distress or inexplicably stand about in her underwear, mostly without any reason.
The majority of the supporting cast don’t get a chance to make an impression, with the majority of them having nothing in the way of characterization that would differentiate them from each other. Only one of them gets an opportunity to inject a bit of personality to their villain, but he chews the scenery so much it feels out of touch with the rest of the film.
I don’t take any pleasure in giving a film like Kill Shot a poor review. I like nothing more than discovering an undiscovered gem. Kill Shot had the potential to be a worthwhile action film but there’s just too many issues with the completed film for it to be classed a success.
Plot: 1/5 Acting: 1.5/5 Action: 1/5 Overall: 1.2/5