Don't Kill It Review (Film, 2017) #31DaysofHorror
Content warning: Don’t Kill It features violence against animals in its opening scene.
Action/horror is one of those combinations we just don’t see too often on film. Action films tend to have a higher budget than what’s typically allocated for horror just to account for the amount of extra staff and production costs—stunt performers, stunt choreographers, safety technicians, more locations, more editing and effects. Yet, when done well, they are a potent combination. Both genres are about an exaggerated exploration of the real world through a highly stylized and unrealistic lens. Action has the chases and stunts, and horror has the scares.
Don’t Kill It is a mixed bag. It’s an over the top, aggressive action film with paranormal leanings. A hunter unleashes an ancient evil on a small Mississippi town. A demon possesses whoever comes in physical contact with it, sending them on a murderous spree that can only be stopped by murdering the possessed. Whoever murders the possessed person becomes the new host for the demon. The vicious cycle continues until the demon can be trapped again, and only a career demon hunter named Jebediah Woodley can stop it.
Don’t Kill It feels like a product of the 80s, and in a lot of ways it is. For one thing, it’s a starring vehicle for Dolph Lundgren. He still has a captivating presence onscreen, even if he’s typically only called on to play a big strong tough guy. That hyper-masculine stock action star type defines the tone of the entire film. The violence, the dialogue, and even the edit is extremely aggressive.
For me, the murders in the film are just too over the top with no real justification. Yes, a murderous demon is on the loose. That’s not that far off for a paranormal horror films. Full screen closeups of a woman’s face after being boiled alive in a pot of water or a central focus on a teenager’s insides blasted to the outside by a hunting rifle are beyond the pale. Action films don’t typically concern themselves with violence against a random assortment of innocent people the way horror films do, so the over the top big explosion style of action film can seem especially jarring when paired with the quieter, more personal moments of a horror film. Paranormal stories, especially, tend to concern a smaller group of characters who know each other—a family, classmates, friends, neighbors in a small town—and even moments with tertiary characters tend to have more emotional impact than the more anonymous violence of the typical action film.
In some ways, horror and action are cinematic inverses. Horror films do tend to get violent, but the violence is defined by the story. It feels more intimate, more personal, more upsetting with a greater emphasis on believability. The violence is a consequence of a plot, not the driving force. In action, the violence is more stylized and inconsequential. Good and evil are defined at the start and we know who to cheer on, justifying the seemingly random spray of bullets and blood. Good and evil are significant in horror, but horror itself is concerned with the shades of gray and how good can turn bad. For me, Don’t Kill It never finds the right balance between the two approaches.
The technical quality of filmmaking in Don’t Kill It is well done, if a bit aggressive for what I typically watch. The design of the demon is brilliant in its simplicity. The person who is possessed has jet black eyes. They have a distinctive inhuman scream. Otherwise, they look and act just like any other person (except for, you know, the murdering). It’s a simple and menacing choice that defines the possessed person as devoid of humanity.
Don’t Kill It has an interesting story. It’s not particularly new, but it is well-paced and filled with strong lore and characters. The disconnect is the horror-style violence and gore mashed up with the blink and you’ll miss it violence of action. Were the central demon not obsessed with destroying entire families, including teenagers, one after another, the violence wouldn’t register as nearly as shocking. Or, like so many modern horrors I’ve been encountering lately, if Don’t Kill It didn’t use high power guns for its kill scenes mixed with horror staples, it might not seem as off-putting.
It’s just a really unsettling combination that might throw you out of the story right at the start. The beats are there for a great story, but the perspective is just a bit off on accounting for what does or does not read as tolerable in a modern horror/action film. It’s is technically well made and I know there’s an audience for this style of over the top splatter/action; I’m just not part of it.
Don’t Kill It is currently streaming on Netflix.
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