Screening at the ongoing African Diaspora International Film Festival here in NYC (the film's New York premiere) is the indie action drama The Kill Hole - a film we’ve been covering since it made its premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Fest back in January (it won the best feature film award at the New Jersey Film Fest last month); it is written and directed by Mischa Webley, his writing/directing debut.
We previously posted an exclusive interview with Webley in which he discussed his inspiration and vision for the film, which stars relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman (who will be seen next in Brian Hegeland’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42) and Tory Kittles (Miracle at St. Anna, Sons of Anarchy).
Webley’s vision for The Kill Hole, about a troubled Iraqi vet (Boseman) summoned by military government contractors to annihilate a disturbed ex-marine sniper (Kittles) gone AWOL in the forest, translated into the screen impressively.
The film begins with an intriguing voiceover from the film’s antagonist ex-marine sniper in the beautifully photographed wilderness in the Pacific Northwest, where he’s hiding. We are then transported to the desolate life of our protagonist Lt. Samuel Drake, who’s on duty as a cab driver in the busy streets of Portland.
He lives in a motel, and regularly visits a veteran support group, but he’s unable to open up about his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), from which he suffers unsettling flashbacks and nightmares due to atrocities he committed in war. He slowly begins opening up to the group’s counselor, who aside from his motel manager, is the only person he significantly interacts with. His depressing routine is interrupted when private military contractors make him a hard to refuse offer to kill an ex-vet sniper, who witnessed killings led by Lt. Drake and his group.
The order is to kill the AWOL vet and bring back evidence. During a chase scene in the woods, Lt. Drake ends up hostage by the tormented vet. I appreciated the dynamics and Webley’s approach when it came to these two characters, which form an unlikely bond as they deal with isolation and the ramifications of war, stemming from their choices made while on duty.
It’s interesting because it’s not common to see African American characters on screen –with one-on-one scenes especially -who are not ‘playing up’ being black, don’t form an instant camaraderie due to both being black, and/or constantly joke about being black. It’s refreshing that the characters don’t resort to colloquial clichés in their dialogue. In that sense, the film has a nuanced, post-racial quality to it that I also appreciated. You get to focus on the characters’ predicaments, which have nothing to do with race; at the forefront, these men are dealing with issues of trauma and guilt which many servicemen and women of all creeds and colors find themselves in. But it’s a fictional narrative after all, so there’s definitely an entertaining action thriller genre here, in spite of the grim realism of life after war depicted.
It’s not a perfect film; there are unanswered questions about these flashbacks, and perhaps, for those that hope for a proverbial hero in its protagonist may be a little disappointed; yet, I respected the choices for the narrative here, hence the unconventional quality of the film, which still has many straightforward action sequences common in action thrillers; especially when it comes down to the villains, who hunt Lt. Drake down after the ex-marine sniper turns up alive in the Portland streets seeking revenge.
The handsome, virile Boseman has a magnetic, mysterious presence not many actors posses, further accentuated by the actor’s ability to also convey vulnerability and genuine emotion; I’m hopeful that a long career lies ahead of him.
I’d be remiss not to highlight Tory Kittles performance; Kittles unselfconsciously portrays the perturbed poetic sniper with gripping tenacity. I was also pleasantly surprised to see actor Billy Zane tackle his role as the counselor with aplomb.
As Webley expressed in our interview, the film showcased three aesthetic elements for its narrative: an action thriller, a superb poetic voiceover by Kittles and a documentary, as real Iraqi war veterans were brought on board for the group support scenes.
Stylistically, the film, anchored by compelling performances, is commendable. Filmmakers have crafted a top-notch production in spite of limited budget and a 22-day shooting schedule. The strength of the film also lies in its atmospheric feel, thanks to the cinematography by Eric Billman, its original score by Jason Wells and editing by James Westby.
There’s an underlining motif for the film – aside from military government conspiracy - of disregarded veteran servicemen, who are used by the government and then expected to adjust to civilian life with minimal qualms behind a façade of honor and patriotism. It’s a universal theme, which was the writer/director’s intent after all.
Watch the trailer below: