Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
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Oh, but for the redemptive power of love. Nik Amir Mustapha takes this lesson and spins an engrossing meditation about people who have had life beaten right out of them with not only one, but two stories. Nik Amir's "KIL" is basically a dark romantic comedy that manages to end up being a genuinely moving product despite taking some cheap shots at manipulating the audience's feelings in between.
The film opens with Akil (Redza Minhat) attempting to commit suicide by connecting a hose to his car's exhaust pipe into his car to suffocate himself, only to stumble out of the car not long after. The scene establishes the premise of the film: Akil is a depressed and suicidal young man, but he just cannot seem to bring himself to let himself die. Even an attempt to jump off the rooftop of his apartment ends up with him persuading another suicidal tenant to live as a breakup is not reason enough to die.
Akil later finds the solution to his troubles in the form of a flyer for Life Action Bureau a.k.a. LAB, a company whose job is to help miserable people end their pain. Akil signs up for their services and eagerly waits to meet his maker, only to meet Zara (Cristina Suzanne) instead. He discovers that Zara lives in the same apartment block as him, and not long after, Akil is falling fast for her, which leads him to doubt his initial desire to die but LAB is bent on taking his life.
"KIL" is indie cinema through and through. The cinematography aims to create as artistic a shot as possible, leading to the use of smoke, still long shots or close-ups of the characters staring off into the distance accompanied by negative space and shots of subjects partially obscured. The soundtrack of the film seems to be have been composed by Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons (the theme song for "KIL" is by Pesawat, a local indie rock band), featuring mainly piano and guitar. On text, these elements make the film sound pretentious, but Nik Amir steers with a delicate intimacy and maturity that wholly mesmerizes; every shot a gorgeous composition that serves the actors and story to great effect, every song accompaniment heightens the experience. Although a lot of footage is recycled, like the fake film by Johan Iskandar (Hasnul Rahmat) and Akil's memories of Zara, considering the shoestring budget that the film was made on, they feel less like a tonally jarring mess, than a demonstration of how to make the best of what you have.
The connection between Akil and Zara grows stronger over the course of the film, and it is clear as daylight that the two are gradually falling in love. There are plenty of awkward moments mediated by quick-witted responses and a comedy of manners between the two, as well as some farcical elements like the news reporter harassing Johan Iskandar. Redza in particular turns in one of the best performances of his career. The scenes where he is alone, Redza communicates an array of emotions using only his face and body language that cuts deeper and more effective than words. Conversely, Cristina is less impressive in that aspect as his leading lady. Some of her actions and speech feel stiff, as she is trying them out for the first time, but she plays Zara with enough conviction and sincerity that fills her out as more than a complicating plot device.
However, great as the film is, it does have its flaws. The plot, while it does not follow a fairly predictable path, ends up raising more questions than answering them. For example, what could LAB have possibly hoped to achieve when they resorted to such extreme actions? Given the revelation at the end, what if a victim welcomes death instead? Further, Akil's sudden change of mind about his death is influenced by the unrelated appearance of Zara, so what exactly did LAB do? There is so much potential for "KIL" to be a truly affecting meditation on life and death, suicide and depression, but unfortunately the film decides to stay on the safe side.
Similarly, there were also a lot of interesting characters Nik Amir has written into script left unexplored, which is a shame. "KIL" is very much written to be a film for a very small cast, so the supporting characters like Akil's boss feel like cardboard cut-outs inserted to populate the film's world to facilitate comic and occasionally schmaltzy moments. For example, Johan Iskandar's reel life and real life wonderfully parallels Akil's plight, but the filmmaker's descent into regret and depression is presented to us with sledgehammer subtlety. The audience is told that his film is a flop, but we never learn why he keeps making one flop after another, or led through the disintegration of his relationship with his wife.
Being a romantic comedy, no matter how dark the subject matter is, is the biggest strength and biggest weakness of "KIL". The film could have delved deeper into Akil's issues and its place in society, but it chooses to concentrate on the romance instead, so it is not really subverting the genre as much as it is giving it a fresh spin. On the other hand, the raw performances, inspired direction, beautiful cinematography and soundtrack marks "KIL" as one of the best local films in recent years and a promising leap forward for director Nik Amir.Cinema Online, 15 May 2013