The classic western is a genre that comes into and falls out of favor regularly. By that I mean it isn’t a genre that you’ve seen gracing the big screen too often as of late. But every so often, a western hits a nerve and becomes something that’s on everybody’s radar. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is the latest example of that phenomenon, and now writer/directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks are attempting to piggyback onto that film’s success with their film, Kill Or Be Killed (aka Red On Yella, Kill A Fella).
Co-writer/director Meeks plays Claude ‘Sweet Tooth” Barbie, an outlaw that knows of a stash of gold that’s hidden away somewhere deep in the heart of Texas. After gathering together a gang of like minded outlaws, they slowly make their way towards the gold, leaving a string of dead bodies behind them. That series of dead bodies makes it relatively easy for a posse of lawmen to follow Barbie and his boys, but that’s not their biggest problem. As they get closer to their final destination, Sweet Tooth’s boys are dropping like flies on a near daily basis. But not from the bullets of the law, they’re dying in their sleep, with their eyes tinted yellow and strange yellow and red markings on their suddenly green tinted skin. The question soon becomes whether Barbie will make it to the secret location that harbors the gold he so covets before he and his crew all fall victim to whatever’s killing them one at a time.
What works really well for the film is the genuine effort put into it to make it all look/feel authentic. The script is about as slick as one could expect from a western, with dialog that snaps and crackles throughout. Additionally, the settings are genuine (Filming took place entirely in Texas), and the costumes are wonderfully weathered and worn. What doesn’t work especially well are the performances. Although Meeks does a fine job portraying Barbie, his supporting cast is uneven at best. But Paul McCarthy-Boyington as ‘Slap‘ Jack Davis and Greg Kelly as Frank ‘Blockey‘ Jackson hold their own rather nicely, with Kelly making his characterization of Jackson especially threatening. Other supporting characters don’t do as well as those I’ve just mentioned, but I won’t say it’s not for trying. The earnestness of the cast is evident almost immediately, and it’s obvious that everyone involved is having a grand time reciting their dialog.
But while the script works for the most part, it does have a few hang ups, mainly the quasi supernatural element. The film works really well with its robbery theme, but the spooky stuff feels as if it was tossed in as an afterthought. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and really doesn’t add much to the film save for some confusion as to what it all means. I’m not too sure if the final explanation sufficiently explains it all either, but it does pack a bit of a visual kick that helps to smooth over any questions that might come up.
The film features some grisly violence, but it isn’t quite as gory as I’d expected it to be. Although practical FX are used for some of the film, the use of CGI blood squibs is really prevalent and distracting. But the grisliest scene in the film (featuring Michael Berryman as a doctor called in to look at a wounded foot) is accomplished with practical FX, and that was heartening to see. The gunshots seemed a bit artificial as well, they created way too much smoke to my liking, although who knows? Maybe guns of that era created a lot of smoke. Overall the film really does look/feel authentic though, gun smoke be damned. Cinematographer Brandon Torres does a great job taking advantage of the natural beauty to be found in the gorgeous Texas scenery, although some of the night scenes lean a bit too much towards the dark side. The score (by John Constant) is quite reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns of the 60’s, and is quite memorable to boot.
There’s a lot to like here in Kill Or Be Killed. It’s a western that isn’t shy in putting its violence up front and center. Its got a few great lead performances that help buttress some of the weaker performances throughout. The script feels like an old timey western heist story that works for the most part, or at least until the supernatural element gets introduced. It’s definitely entertaining though, and it’s always good to see Michael Berryman in a film doing what he does best. Kill Or Be Killed isn’t perfect, but it will do a nice job of keeping you heartily entertained on a slow weekend.
Kill Or Be Killed (3 / 5)
Kill Or Be Killed is now available on VOD and DVD from RLJ Entertainment.