I’ll give actor Dan Stevens credit: after leaving the comfort of “Downton Abbey,” he’s done everything in his power to not only shake the image of simply being the safe, handsome leading man, but also to explore roles in films that those playing it safe might stay far away from. Even his turn in what will likely be the most financially successful film of the year, Beauty and the Beast, is done hidden behind a CG animal head that makes him unrecognizable. This year alone, he’s popped up in films like Norman, Colossal, and The Ticket, while playing the lead in the surreal and wonderful FX series “Legion,” and he’s set to be in three more films before 2017 is done, including this week’s sci-fi adventure Kill Switch.
Stevens plays Will Porter, a retired pilot who also happens to be a physicist, but has given most of that up to take care of his sister (Charity Wakefield) and her young son Donny (Kasper van Groesen), who is dealing with some sort of unspecified mental issue related to a recent emotional trauma (Why waste time on the details?). As the film opens, Alterplex, the company Porter has agreed to work for, is launching a device that will provide an endless supply of energy by essentially draining a parallel version of earth that is said to be uninhabited. And if there’s one thing you can trust to be truthful about not harming people, it’s a big energy company. Things seem to be going smoothly until they aren’t, and Will is called into work to help fix what has gone wrong, which is apparently ripping apart both versions of earth as a result.
Kill Switch moves between timelines, each of which focus on a different aspect of Will’s recent life. We see him in the “present,” where he has cleared traveled to the other version of earth to find out what has gone wrong in the hopes of fixing it (for most of this segment, we see the world through Will’s eyes, like a first-person video game; he’s also shown being recruited into Alterplex by Abigail Vos (Bérénice Marlohe), who convinces him the work is safe and exciting, and that the clean energy they’re tapping into will save the planet; finally, we see him somewhere in between the other two timelines, working for the company and figuring out exactly the nature of this new energy source.
Kill Switch comes courtesy of first-time director Tim Smit (a veteran visual effect supervisor) and writers Charlie Kindinger and Omid Nooshin, and the first thing you notice about it is how impressive the effects are (also courtesy of Smit) for a movie that likely didn’t cost very much. The problems surface pretty readily when we try to decipher the story. Especially in the more current timeline, we get a lot of jargon and theory thrown at us that doesn’t add up to much of anything. Part of the first-person visuals include a display screen that alerts Will when he’s injured or in danger, and trying to keep your eyes on that further distracts from whatever plot is being foisted on us. It also doesn’t help that in those sequences, we can’t actually see Stevens’ face; we just hear his voice screaming at whomever is nearby.
The film fares slightly better when things are quieter. I actually liked the moments when he’s attempting to figure out the big mysteries of the tower where he works and serves as the focal point for the energy harnessing. There’s actual tension and mystery at work that plays out successfully. The more emotional moments with his family are good as dramatic exercises, but they seem like afterthoughts to the main action and threads are left dangling for no reason other than the writers couldn’t figure out how to make them satisfying as plot points.
Kill Switch ends up becoming a doomsday story that ultimately doesn’t contain a necessary sense of dread. Stevens and the other actors are quite good, but the film doesn’t quite match their abilities. That being said, I’m genuinely curious what Smith does next as a director. I think he has a solid eye for visual effects, and when he gets a great script to couple with his technical abilities, he’ll make a hell of a movie.
The films opens today at AMC Woodridge and on VOD.