Crime, Science Fiction, Thriller

Apocalypse Kiss (2014)

0 Comments 28 May 2014

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Studio:  Potent Media

Distributed By:  Midnight Releasing, Gravitas Ventures

DVD & VOD Release:  April 8, 2014

Director:  Christian Jude Grillo

Rating:  Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Apocalypse Kiss.

Arguably the best science fiction tales work as modern allegories, weaving a subtext into the plot to make a larger point on society, politics, race, etc. and they do so without brow beating you to death with their message. They come in many shapes and sizes. Epic like Star Wars. Gritty like Blade Runner. Cerebral like Star Trek. Horrific like Scanners. Low-budget and cheezy like Death Race 2000. Whatever your flavor of choice, science fiction continues to be a diverse and expansive tool for weaving multiple genres and ideas under a single banner.

Upon finishing Apocalypse Kiss, my first question was, what is the message these filmmakers are trying to convey? My second question was, why did I have to see this guy’s dick?

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

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I still don’t have the answer to the second question, but we can begin by exploring the first…

In a dystopian future where humankind is implanted with identity chips,  our movements constantly monitored outside of the home, and the corporate mega-giant, Horn Industries, controls every facet of our daily lives; society is split between the affluent “West Sector” and the crime riddled and depressed “East Sector”. As if matters couldn’t get worse, a killer branded the “Red Harvest Killer” stalks the city. Meanwhile, nomadic lesbian lovers Gladys and Katia arrive into town and kill, steal, cheat, and con in order to survive. The bodies the girls leave behind gains the attention of the local media who mis-represent the crimes as the work of “Red Harvest”. This draws the ire of the real “Red Harvest,” Adrian, a charismatic, obsessive compulsive, narcissist, who works as a high-level security monitor for the over-reaching corporate giant, Horn Industries. The girls quickly find themselves in peril as Adrian looks to reclaim his position as the real “Red Harvest” killer. However, hot on the trail of all three killers is Agent Jerry Hipple. Hipple has been hunting “Red Harvest” from the beginning and just as he begins to lose hope of ever catching the elusive killer, Adrian intentionally offers Hipple enough clues in a final attempt to force a showdown, thrust his crimes front and center, and give Adrian the notoriety that he desperately craves.

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I’ve seen other fellow critics refer to this kind of film as “sci-fi lite” and I think the term applies here. When you watch the special features, it becomes clear that the filmmakers wear their low-budget roots like a badge of honor. And truthfully they should because this movie looks pretty good considering their budget limitations. To start, the art direction and set design are pretty good. Don’t expect detailed art direction like Blade Runner, or David Lynch’s Dune, but the movie feels like the future. It may be a “low-budget” future, but it is the future none-the-less. On the flip side, even though the team knows how to stretch a dollar, there are times when Apocalypse Kiss looks more like a SyFy Channel Original Movie and may turn away sci-fi fans with a more refined palate.

Photography and lighting are another component that lends to the film’s successes. In an age of digital filmmaking, it has become very easy for anyone to pick up a digital SLR camera and try to make their own masterpiece. Nine times out of ten DSLR movies look as cheap and amateur as the consumer grade products used to shoot them. Fortunately, Apocalypse Kiss looks better than your average DSLR movie making strong use of capable lighting, and a decent color palate. Now I’m probably lowering my standards a little in consideration of this movie, but when taking into account some of the garbage I’ve seen lately, I’ve discovered it’s much harder to make video not look like video. So when a movie does a decent job of distracting me enough to take my conscious attention away from the photography, I feel I should give the production its just desserts.

Hands down the greatest accomplishment of Apocalypse Kiss is the special effects. Ranging from minor (David Horn advertising from a billboard sized monitor) to major effects (a space station in outer space), the digital effects work may be the single item that lends to the futuristic look and authenticity of the film. As mentioned above, some of it looks a little cheezy and on par with a SyFy Channel Original Movie. There is a “scanning grid” effect that whooshes past the cast to represent the constant identity invasion of the government/Horn Industries. This effect is not as water-tight as some of the other digital effects, but many other times (especially during the film’s climax) the effects are outright stunning and propel the movie beyond amateur fare.

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The acting proves to be a source of mixed outcomes ranging from the good to the very poor. The best performance comes from veteran character actor Tom Atkins (Halloween III, The Fog), playing a bit part as Captain John Vogle. Atkins phones this one in, but still proves to have more screen presence in his almost-cameo than the rest of the cast. Another genre favorite and casting coup is the casting of Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Weird Science) as corporate mogul David Horn. Unfortunately, Berryman is little more than a talking head that appears on video monitors throughout the feature and has no real opportunity to…well be Michael Berryman. Notable cameos are rounded out by a decent, but expected performance from Tromaville’s own Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) as the President.

The central cast is comprised of mostly unknowns, lead by D.C. Douglas portraying Red Harvest Killer, Adrian. Douglas seems to relish in his character’s evil nature and chews the scenery with delight, whilst bringing a welcome up-beat energy that contrasts the gloomy exterior surroundings. Opposite Douglas/Adrian is actor Tom Detrik, playing Agent Jerry Hipple. Detrik gives a fine and otherwise commendable performance when paired with D.C. Douglas and the other cast. However, he is the one actor of the main cast who shares screen time with veteran actor Tom Atkins. They only have a handful of scenes together, however it becomes clear that Atkins is in a whole other league than the rest of the central cast and although Detrik does his best to match intensity, Atkins just makes Detrik and the rest of the cast  seem weaker by comparison.

And speaking of weakest of the cast – Tammy Jean and Carmella Hayslett round out the central cast as nomadic, murderous lovers Gladys and Katia. Gladys represents the beautiful, blonde Barbie, contrasted against raven haired, deaf/mute Katia. Katia resembles a poor man’s Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My biggest gripe with the female performances is that the actresses are given very little to do other than complain and hang out in various locales. *Minor spoiler alert* (Highlight the empty space to reveal text)

Midway through the feature it is revealed that Katia is not deaf/mute, but rather she’s been scamming everyone, including Gladys. Sign language is replaced by a bad Russian accent and later the accent slips into something more like Irish, then back into Russian. Near the end of the movie the character decides to give up the charade and stops speaking with an accent altogether. In one of the “making of” features on the DVD, Director Grillo attributes the change in dialects and accents as “part of the character’s complex layer-cake.” Not only does this sound like a load of bulls–t, but this drives at the heart of my biggest criticism with the feature by and large…

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The script is poor, despite having capable directing, good art direction, and good to great special effects. In many of the DVD special features, a lot of time is spent talking about how great the script is. I couldn’t disagree more. To start, the story structure is all wrong and it is never clear who the lead protagonist is. Of the three plot lines, the film sets up Gladys and Katia first so you assume that they are driving the film. However, their story amounts to nothing as they become passive by-standers who have no clear objective or obstacle to overcome. Adrian, as “Red Harvest,” is introduced second and is clearly the antagonist as he is revealed to be “Red Harvest” from the on-set. That leaves Agent Hipple, but his character isn’t even introduced until 20 minutes into the film, so obviously he’s not the protagonist, right?

As the three plot lines play out and slowly head toward each other, another question came to mind. Why is this film set in the future? The girl’s plot line is little more than a bad Thelma and Louise rip. The Red Harvest plot line is your basic serial killer story told better by TV shows like Dexter (Red Harvest even wraps a guy down to a table with clear plastic!). And the Hipple detective story succeeds in being little more than your average noir crime drama, replete with bad voice over narration and all (If the narration didn’t work for Blade Runner what made them think it would work here?). The plots are so fundamentally basic that I began to wonder why bother giving the story a sci-fi twist? There are only two possible reasons I can conceive as to the film having a futuristic setting – one is a big detail, the others are little details.  Let’s start with the little details…

Details are a wonderful thing but not if they feel like a bunch of random ideas thrown into a melting pot. Director/Writer Grillo is ambitious and has a lot of things to say – from high-tech privacy invasion, abandonment issues, to class warfare (east sector vs. west sector) – and a futuristic setting gives Grillo the perfect canvas to try and layout his views. The problem is he tries to say a lot of additional things without the laser precision focus to zero in on a handful of topical issues like the ones listed above. Instead he throws everything in the script leaving little time to explore these ideas any deeper than just skimming the epidermal layer. The ideas and details are in such quantity that they become superfluous, ultimately cheapening the impact and weight of a doomed future.

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As for the “big” detail… *Minor spoiler alert* (Highlight the empty space to reveal text)

If you haven’t guessed, the world comes to an end at the conclusion of the movie. The film is titled Apocalypse Kiss for cripes sake! The synopsis on the DVD cover also mentions the end of the world, so it’s not really a spoiler, but I digress… A rogue planet has broken orbit and is set to collide with planet Earth, killing everything and everyone. A pretty awesome concept for a sci-fi movie. The problem is that, as a story device, the character’s and population do not learn of their impending doom until the very end of the movie. If the destruction of the Earth plays no critical emotional role in character’s story arc why even introduce the idea? What if Director/Writer Grillo introduced Earth’s final days at the very beginning of the movie while concurrently pushing the main cast forward? Wouldn’t it be much more interesting to explore Agent Hipple’s motivations for chasing a serial killer with the knowledge that the world is going to end anyway? Instead we get the opposite and the end of the world serves little more than an excuse for a really nice effects reel.

I can honestly say I wanted to like Apocalypse Kiss. There are a lot of things done right, and a few missteps that could have been overlooked. Unfortunately, all of the hard work and good intentions are derailed with a poor script that should have been given a few rewrites, some scene shuffling, and a lot of editing.

Video & Audio Rating: ★★★☆☆

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I continue to be impressed with some of today’s aspiring filmmakers and their ability to make digital cinema look like “legitimate” cinema. Such is the case with Grillo’s Apocalypse Kiss. Grillo is another filmmaker who doesn’t have the luxury of budget to secure the most advanced in modern technology, but uses his simple digital SLR camera to capture this sci-fi thriller to success. Showcased in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, colors pop, the future looks appropriately dark and gritty, and there’s a nice balance between the few outdoor day scenes and the darker night ones.

Audio is a basic stereo track so it won’t impress audiophiles, but the final mix is good. I don’t recall anything standing out as impressing me, but that’s what impresses me. I have so little to comment on in this area that you should take that as 100% positive, glowing praise. Especially in independent cinema, audio is one of the most overlooked areas typically falling victim to lack of audio rather than poor audio. For an independent production to get little sci-fi beeps, whirs, and whistles correct alongside basic dialogue says volumes about the technical care put forth into this venture.

Extras Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Apocalypse Kiss DVD extras represent another collection of bonuses that help the viewer appreciate the film more upon reflection. There are a number of short “making of” segments that delve deeper into the low budget roots and expose the hurdles the team had to overcome in order to produce the feature and include…

  1. The Making of Apocalypse Kiss Featurette
  2. Make Your Own Damn Space Station: Behind the scenes featurette delving into the space station set and the role of the President. Shot and produced by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman.
  3. Horn Industries Microwave Home Defense System Commercial: Featuring Michael Berryman and Sharon Lentz of Dark Shadows.
  4. The full “One Credit Samuri” mock commercial featured in the film.
  5. Cast/Crew Audio Commentary

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

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If I seem cruel or overly critical, it’s only because I view Apocalypse Kiss as a missed opportunity. Grillo and team are clearly talented and the young director has a lot of things going on in his head, but he can’t seem to quiet the voices enough to narrow the narrative into focus that would make Apocalypse Kiss great. What remains are competing ideas for your attention, none of them standing out, and leaving behind a mediocre and otherwise forgettable experience.

In an age of digital filmmaking, physical media is becoming less relevant. In the case of Apocalypse Kiss you have the option to view the feature via video on demand or DVD. Personally, I’m a huge fan of VOD rentals, however the VOD is devoid of the special features that truly complement this movie. In short, if you’re predisposed to check out Apocalypse Kiss (despite my harshest criticisms) I would recommend the DVD version if you can get your hands on a copy.

Author

- who has written 64 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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