The parallel world created in Kill Switch may not be devoid of life, but it might as well be.
Much like its antagonistic megacorporation, Kill Switch’s filmmakers take an innovative concept and use it to create a world that is ultimately unsustainable. In keeping with the best sci-fi, Kill Switch taps into a pressing global anxiety—in this case both the environmental imperative of sustainable energy and the destructive impact of monolithic corporations run amok—and takes it to fantastic lengths. The directorial debut of Tim Smit hinges on the idea of an Amsterdam-based energy giant, Alterplex, generating a renewable source of power by creating and mining a parallel world. The concept is sound, the visual effects are compelling, and yet, hammy dialogue amongst shallowly-developed characters and an overreliance on a cinematographic gimmick derails the whole project by the time we reach its heavily telegraphed conclusion.
Despite using the threadbare trope of a protagonist waking up confused by his surroundings, Kill Switch manages to generate some genuine mystery in its opening scenes. After we’re introduced to the allegedly brilliant (and, naturally, blonde and blue-eyed) NASA pilot Will Porter (Dan Stevens), the viewer is thrust into his POV, complete with the pop-up alerts and analysis he sees through a futuristic wearable smartphone that connects directly to his brain. He emerges in a heavily damaged lab setting and finds that the building and surrounding area are littered with corpses. He’s in possession of a mysterious black cube and, in the distance, he can see Alterplex’s twin towers emitting a glowing blue stream of energy up into the clouds. When all the informational signs he comes across appear written backwards, this mirrored view leads him to believe he’s awoken in “the Echo,” a parallel universe that Alterplex has created and sent him to in order to install technology crucial to balancing the two worlds.
The problem is that the Echo wasn’t supposed to have people in it. In flashbacks, we see the dark, smoky-eyed Alterplex exec Abby (former Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe) recruit Will and inform him that the Echo will be an energy-rich world bereft of carbon-based lifeforms, making its exploitation for resources completely ethical. That doesn’t stop militant environmental activists, who blandly call themselves “the Rebels,” from threatening Alterplex at every turn in retaliation for messing with the fabric of the universe.
We’re also given maudlin flashbacks of Will playing the surrogate father role to his nephew (Kasper van Groesen), as Will relocates his widowed sister Mia (Charity Wakefield) and the young boy to Amsterdam with him, only to nearly resign his world-changing gig when the pair get homesick. As hackneyed as these attempts at character development are, however, they do come as a welcome respite from the first-person-shooter-style action sequences. The POV scenes come off like a video came we can’t play, and with the frequently blurred vision, muffled hearing, and endless losses of consciousness (it’s rare to experience a character get knocked out so frequently in a single film), it can become nauseating to the viewer in the same way as shakiest of found-footage flicks.
The visual effects deserve acclaim, especially as electromagnetic disturbances drop train cars, boats and other large objects from the swirling clouds or pull the debris from explosions into odd directions. However, the menacing Alterplex drones that chase Will at every turn, though visually striking, hew far too closely to the sentinels from The Matrix—in spirit if not in specific design—for the film’s own good. What starts as an interesting immersion into parallel-world scenario with a touch of social commentary devolves into a standard race-against-time featuring dimensionless characters who have little to say beyond expository info dumps, melodramatic platitudes or repetitive variations of “Oh my god, what is that?!” The parallel world created in Kill Switch may not be devoid of life, but it might as well be.