Dan Stevens has certainly broken free from the stiff collars of Downton Abbey. Since leaving the series he’s become a bankable name in such diverse films as The Guest and Beauty And The Beast. He’s now added “sci-fi actioner” to his CV, with Kill Switch arriving in cinemas this week. Another high concept flick is either great news or depressingly familiar, depending on your point of view.
Hmm, did someone say Point Of View? Sounds like a cue for a feature! Because director Tim Smit has made extensive use of POV sequences in his full-length debut, adapted from a short called What’s In The Box? That bite-sized offering was entirely comprised of POV, where the camera and the audiences’ eyes fuse to become one intense thrill ride. As you may know if you read my posts regularly (and if you do, frankly you deserve a medal) I love a short film, so it’s excellent to see another being used as the springboard for a big screen extravaganza.
The plot of Kill Switch sees Stevens play a pilot, who is recruited by a corporation to diffuse the reality-warping mess created by a quantum energy tower. Dispatched to a parallel universe, he discovers a dark secret and faces a terrible dilemma. More on the film later. For now let’s latch our irises onto some iconic POV scenes that really put the technique on the map…
HARDCORE HENRY (2015)
The film Kill Switch is most likely to be compared to is Hardcore Henry, a relentless sci-fi popcorn-fest that relied heavily on POV. Putting the viewer in a video game-style scenario, the narrative (because apparently there was one) followed the title character who, after having his memory wiped, was transformed into a butt-kicking cyborg. The shoot became surprisingly dangerous, with different performers taking the role of Henry. Physical strain and complexity of filming led to ten people donning the specially-constructed POV mask. Personally I found some of the hand acting on display to be totally unconvincing but that’s just me!
Writer/helmer Ilya Naishuller was one of the Henrys and made a daring box office gambit with an arguably limited style. It divided opinion but attracted action fans due to its breakneck speed and quality cast (including Sharlto Copley and Tim Roth). Hardcore Henry banked serious money, though at this stage appears to be a headache-inducing, intriguing one-off. Kill Switch features POV as an element of the story rather than the be and end-all. Maybe its predecessor showed the device is most effective when used sparingly.
The entire movie is one long POV sequence, so here’s one of the best scenes. Buckle up!
PEEPING TOM (1960)
Our next choice is a cult horror movie that took POV and turned it into a truly disturbing tale of psychosis and murder. Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) worked at a film studio but had his own fiendish ambitions with regards production. The aloof camera buff enjoyed attracting then slaughtering women whilst filming their reaction. Director Michael Powell placed the audience in the epicentre by making the lens the killer’s eye, turning them into the ultimate voyeurs.
Yet the sinister process didn’t end there. For the maleveolent maestro installed a mirror on top of his apparatus to ensure his victims witnessed their own faces as they were murdered. This was a thoroughly unsettling exploration of the public’s desire to experience the dark underbelly of life. Powell put the spotlight on his punters, exposing their vicarious side. Peeping Tom proved so controversial at the time it wrecked its creator’s career. The ensuing years revealed the film’s incisive commentary and distinctive shocks.
Watch the opening scene and prepare to shiver:
A key creative decision that made Steven Spielberg into a household name was the burgeoning director’s handling of Jaws‘ POV scenes. This classic movie, which launched the modern day blockbuster as we know it, opted to put us in prime position from the get go. Not only did the opening titles strap us to the head of the legendary Great White shark – or “Bruce” as he became known – but the first onscreen kill placed viewers beneath swimmer Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) as the predator closed in for his evening meal. Spielberg shot numerous standout sequences this way, including an attack on a lilo bearing a tragic tot.
Showing us the world through a shark’s eyes reinforced the powerful and crucially unseen nature of the seaweed-strewn monster. Even though we were an inch from him, he was at the same time mysterious and terrifying due to being just out of sight. The use of POV immersed us in the giant fish’s deadly business and contributed a huge amount to the film’s impact. It was repeated in subsequent franchise entries with diminishing results – as is usually the case, the original beast is the best.
The opening minutes are below for your aquatic anticipation:
Martin Scorsese has delivered some outstanding gangster pictures over the years but many would agree his finest was Goodfellas. It’s got more famous scenes than dollar bills in a corrupt policeman’s wallet and some have POV shots at their heart. Robert De Niro (above) generated a sense of quiet menace as Jimmy Conway, here sizing up a future corpse at the bar. Then there was Lorraine Bracco‘s Karen waking up her husband with a gun aimed point blank into the camera.
The POV scene moviegoers remember above all others is an introduction to various underworld characters in a shady restaurant. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is the film’s narrator and through whose perspective we are greeted by a succession of larger than life personalities. Smoothly put together by Scorsese and his team, it goes by like a dream and is packed with quotable lines and weathered faces. There’s a deceptively friendly air as Hill is welcomed into the fold. Of course the cosiness doesn’t last long once reality catches up with these beguiling career criminals.
See what the fuss is about below:
Kill Switch is out on Friday. Let us know your POV on this feature in the comments section!