I’ve certainly gotten a lot of bang for my buck in Indian action films as of late. RRR is still fighting off all challengers with ease, but Pathaan and Jawan delivered plenty of fun. Now I have KILL to consider, having made its premiere at a few festivals, including its West Coast debut at Beyond Fest. KILL is a no-holds-barred action thriller set in the confines of a train, essentially pitting a one-man army against a series of bandits. Thanks to skillful direction from Nikhil Nagesh Bhat and a team of stunt choreographers, there’s plenty of brutal delight to be taken in by those not satisfied enough with all those dispatched earlier this year in John Wick: Chapter 4. Even if this film only has so much to offer, as a grimy but polished action flick, KILL doesn’t leave much to the imagination as we watch a commando tear opponents to pieces.
Some efficiently handled plotting sets things in motion. Amrit (Lakshya) and Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) are two Indian army commandos on an express train to New Delhi. Amrit’s girlfriend, Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), is on the train, and the film establishes a far more earnest romance involving these two before things get heavy. Of course, everything goes awry with the arrival of 40 bandits, all a part of an extended family, and being led by a wild man named Fani (Raghav Juyal) and his father. The bandits intend to loot the passengers and kidnap the wealthier ones (including Tulika’s CEO father). However, these looters did not count on the commandos being ready to fight them off with extreme prejudice, if necessary.
The first half of this film definitely suggests something more along the lines of “Die Hard on a Train” (with respect to Under Siege 2: Dark Territory). The stakes are established, the bad guys have defining qualities, and the heroes are shown as ones trying to keep everyone safe, even with their backs often pushed against the wall. The second half, however, takes a turn into extreme action territory, where the gloves come off, and the weapons get sharper and more destructive. Certain events transpire that turn Amrit from John McClane into a T-800 that still takes a beating.
Given the claustrophobic nature of the setting and the various levels that come in the form of different train cars, it’s easy to see where comparisons to The Raid are coming from. However, I’ve more accurately seen the much gorier Indonesian action thriller, The Night Comes for Us, brought into the discussion, and it makes a lot of sense. Between that and India’s frenetic escaped buffalo film, Jallikattu, director Bhat has found himself in good company as far as points of comparison.
So much of what works about the film is its commitment to detailed shots and fight arrangements to maximize the impact of what’s taking place. Working with action choreographers behind Snowpiercer and War, it’s clear that part of the objective is to make sure the brutality is matched with clear skills from the performers, as well as the exhaustion of an all-night battle on a speeding train. Additionally, and meant in a complimentary fashion, not unlike a video game, seeing the various types of bandits our heroes must face adds some interesting touches regarding the means by which they can be taken down.
If there’s any concern, it’s how to keep up the momentum that comes from pushing so hard on the action. By nature of this kind of story, throttling down threatens to ruin the excitement that naturally comes from seeing various fights play out. This is sadly KILL’s greatest weakness – it just can’t quite hold onto the constant thrill of the fight-based chaos taking place when there are multiple moments where the film slows down the sake of melodramatic reveals, executions, and other distractions. Sure, every action movie has downtime to evolve the main characters or set up new parameters for the story. Still, while the truly great films nail these transitions, Kill must settle for being merely okay at it.
However, it’s not as though this film doesn’t have plenty to offer. Described as “India’s most violent film ever,” in some of the notes; while it may not match the heights of films like Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky or RoboCop, the spirit of those films and more can certainly feel as though it’s coming alive in KILL in some instances. With that in mind, part of the dark joy of this movie came not only from watching bones getting broken in satisfying ways but the fact that all the bandits are related to each other. While I remarked upon the instances where the film slows down, nothing was ever distracting about seeing the various villains come upon their dead compatriots and wallow in the pain of what’s happening as the hunters become the hunted.
Yes, as a game of cat and mouse, there’s a lot of fun in seeing the gears shift back and forth as far as who has the advantage. Still, at the film’s center are two solid performances by men of action. Lakshya (in an excellent debut performance) and Juyal provide what’s needed on opposite ends of the spectrum. We see Amrit take his hits yet show that he can’t be stopped, while Fani is the sort of talky sociopath who you know will meet a fitting end. This may not be the epic bromance that came out of RRR or anything as delicious as McClane vs. Gruber, but the two do a lot of good for KILL.
Inspired by a very real problem of bandits targeting trains, as witnessed by the director in the 90s, KILL only has so much to explore beyond the notion of what lengths desperate men will go to, but a lack of deeper themes is hardly an issue here. If one is looking to see a lot of well-handled action stuffed into a nearly two-hour film set aboard a train, KILL has your ticket.