WARNING! SPOILERS WITHIN! WARNING!
“Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.” —Physicist/novelist C.P. Snow
I don’t generally start my reviews with quotes, but I heard Snow’s a long time ago and for some reason never forgot it. And as I watched Kill Command and realized I liked it enough to do a review (this was not a review copy; couldn’t get one, so I bought it) his quote popped into my head and I thought it would be a great way to open the article. Not to mention the perfect summation of human-based technology. Is there any other? Not that I’m aware of, but you never know when something is going to “creep out of the word work” and bite us all on the ass (i.e. “President” Donald Trump).
I used to be a fan of technology when I was a kid, but as I got older I don’t know what happened. Computers I admit are a necessary evil, but cell phones, never was a fan, and I still don’t own one. On a grander scale scientists are trying to create artificial intelligence, and Hollywood is trying to create photo-realistic actors, and while Kill Command played out I couldn’t help but flash back to The Terminator (1984) and Looker (1981). Looker has nothing at all do with this movie, it was just there in my head when the movie’s grander scope of “tech running amok” positioned itself in the background of my mind. James Cameron’s influence is what drives this flick primarily just without the time travel, and flicks like these always manage to put a little bit of fear in me. You know those movies I’m talking about, the ones that predict something that’s going to come about in the future—and it does! Well, not always, but Cameron sure as hell makes a good argument against artificial intelligence. Personally, I don’t see the attraction to wanting to create a “machine” that can be “aware.” Don’t get me wrong I’m all for science, just not where A.I. is concerned.
In Cameron’s movie A.I. started out as a military application called Skynet created by a tech company called Cyberdyne Systems. Kill Command’s counterpart to that company is Harbinger Robotics, with their tagline is ‘The Shape Of Things To Come.” And they ain’t just whistling Dixie there, my friends. Set in an undetermined point in the future Harbinger is a military vendor trying to figure out the best possible way to replace soldiers on the battlefield, human soldiers, I mean, and unfortunately they ended up being successful. I say unfortunately because the robotic tech they created became “aware” and slaughtered everyone on this island (Harbinger I Training Facility) the military routinely sends their soldiers to. Harbinger’s upgrades, the SARs (Study Analyze Reprogram), or this one in particular, I should say, has become “aware” and gone rogue, but all SARs are linked, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Turn another on and that new one will become aware of all the others and their “mission.” The SARs study their enemy’s tactics, replicate them and then improve upon them. Even the animals on this training island weren’t safe. The robots used all the deer for target practice and when all their targets, human and animal, were gone, guess what they did? They decide to get actual soldiers now to fight so they could hone their tactics, and this is where we’re introduced to our team, and not just any soldiers mind you. They recruited veterans only, ones that have experience killing other soldiers, which makes a hell of a lot sense. If you’re going to learn, might as well learn from the best.
The SAR has requested these U.S. marines in particular: Captain Damien Bukes (Thure Lindhardt. This dude reminded me of a young Rutger Hauer), his “right hand man,” and sniper Drifter (David Ajala), the team’s second sniper Sergeant Rory Robinson (Bentley Kalu), Corporal Robert Cutbill (Tom McKay), Lance Corporal Martin Goodwin (Mike Noble), Corporal Daniella Hackett (Kelly Gough), and Corporal Sam Loftus (Osi Okerafor).
I liked everyone in this movie too.
You’ll tell right from the opening the movie is set in the future because accompanying the team is this woman, Katherine Mills (Vanessa Kirby), who’s responsible in part for the creation of these SARs, she works for Harbinger and apparently she’s also a cyborg. This movie only hints at what the larger world has become technologically and her brief history is that she was “chipped” when she was eleven, which means the glowing thing on the back her neck allows her to connect to any and all computer systems. Her eyes glow and give off a “computer look” when she’s accessing or hacking into a system. Even the sniper rifles are computerized, which mean’s, yes, they too can be “manipulated,” a plot point set up in the beginning and paid off in the final moments. For the good. Mills is contacted in the beginning informing her of something unusual happening in the computer systems on Harbinger’s training facility, she takes it upon herself to accompany the team to find out what’s going on.
Even the “helicopter” that transport the team is high tech beyond belief, there are also Aliens (1986) inspired power-loaders seen in a warehouse.
After they arrive the training goes pretty much as planned as the team enters the island and takes down these uninspired and quite lame robot tanks, but Bukes senses problems, like not being able to communicate with the outside world, which has never happened to him before while on a training mission, plus he doesn’t like Mills because of her cyborg-ish nature. In fact none of the team likes her. She doesn’t even know why she can’t communicate with the global or local network either. The next day the shit finally hits the fan. Most of the robots the team is up against are these smaller, man-sized, four legged walking machine guns is the best way I can describe them, with the rogue SAR being in charge. And there’s a shit load of these walking machine guns.
All the robots are CGI, but for a low-budget independent film the computer effects are incredibly good! It bit iffy, though, when it comes to the weird custom made drones that watch everyone, but when it comes to the robots I was amazingly pleased how convincing they were integrated into the movie. The designs for the SAR are very menacing and they do at one point talk. With the voice used they reminded me a little bit of the Goliath robot seen at the end of Virus (1999), in fact you could look at the SARs as a kind of polished distant cousin. The movie was directed by Steve Gomez, a VFX artist who runs Bandito VFX in the UK, and Kill Command was his directorial debut, so knowing this and seeing how polished the CGI was is now no surprise. Here’s an article deconstructing the movie’s FX.
The team is picked off one by one and there’s one death that will take you by surprise as it happens in mid-conversation just as the robots attack. The blub on the cover says, “Predator Meets The Terminator,” so with that in mind I was kind of expecting some gore. The back of the DVD says it’s Not Rated, and that makes sense even though you don’t get any gore at all. There’s implications of gore since the SARs have these pincers and they even threaten to take apart one of the soldiers it grabs, but in one respect it could have been rated PG-13. Yet there’s a headshot that feels very R-rated and three times either “fuck” or “motherfucker” is uttered. I think you’re only allowed one “fuck” for a PG-13. Then there’s a few “odd moments” like when one of the soldiers is killed and used as bait and when the others find him you can’t see what the robots did to him. The camera never shows the “damage” even though two of the soldiers are commenting on the cuts. There’s also a mercy kill (a shot to the head) that happens that’s never shown either, despite a more graphic one having occurred earlier in the movie. It almost felt like there was some gore, but it was edited out/toned down. That’s just my gut feeling. For you gorehounds that’s probably a deal breaker, but for me it wasn’t, since the flick delivered on so many other levels for me.
I will spoil it and tell you there are only two survivors by the end of this movie and one of them was unexpected. It’s the type of character you’ve seen in countless others movies like that typically gets taken out early one, well, here that dude lives to see another day. If you’ve seen this movie already you might argue there are really three survivors but after watching this last night for a second time I’m comfortable in my assertion that, yes, there are only two.
The ending is left at a certain point where Gomez could conceivably add a second chapter, and I wouldn’t mind seeing one either, because even though the copter is there to pick them up, they’re not really seen departing the island. Plus they aren’t aware of the “interesting turn of events” happening behind them the film ends on, blatantly implying what we’ve all just seen my indeed a beginning chapter.
My one pet peeve of certain overseas independent genre flicks that manage to make it to disc in the US is that the distributors who acquire them sometimes fail to port over all (or any) of the extras features, or even upgrade them to blu when they manage to get blued overseas. Vertical Entertainment has done that with three acquisitions I was interested in, the Australian Event Horizon-esque Infini (2015), Robot Overlords (2014) and Kill Command. Vertical released Kill Command on DVD only back on December 27th, but if you want a region 1 blu you’ll have to get it from Mongrel Media in Canada via Amazon Canada. It’s a bit expensive, or you can go with the much cheaper Region B blu, if you’ve region free.
There’s extras on the blu too.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen—2.0 English Dolby Digital, 5.1 English Dolby Digital—English subs only
Extras included . . .