Westerns have made a strong comeback in the last ten years or so. It seems like nearly every year now at least a couple new entries ranging from smaller indie efforts to larger budget pictures enter the western landscape. What exactly caused this resurgence, I’m not sure, but I’m glad it happened. The western is one of the classic cinema genres and I’m always glad to have them around.
Kill or Be Killed (AKA Red on Yella, Kill a Fella) is a 2015 western from directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks that just recently made it’s DVD debut thanks to RLJ Entertainment.
The film opens with a chain gang out building a railroad track in the middle of the desert. Like is usually the case in these situations, one member of the chain gang in particular seems to really irritate the lawmen watching over them. In this case that man is ‘Slap’ Jack Davis (Paul McCarthy-Boyington), who learns the hard way that there will be no breaks this day.
Suddenly a handful of outlaws led by the infamous Claude ‘Sweet Tooth’ Barbee (Meeks), pop up out of the bushes and embark on a rescue mission to set Davis free. With little restraint the ruthless criminals are successful.
With his old gang back in full force Sweet Tooth and the boys are able to get to their desired mission – a trip across Texas to recover hidden loot from a railroad heist gone bad. Along the way they pick up a new member in the form of Willie (Bridger Zadina), a young would-be outlaw with a skill in ventriloquism. I must say it’s not a great skill, however. Willie very obviously moves his own mouth when operating his dummy, but he’s charming and thus gets a pass.
Being the outlaws they are the gang can’t seem to refrain from causing a heap of trouble along the way. Before they know it Sheriff Everheart (Luce Rains) and Deputy Marshall Peak (Timothy McKinney) are hot on their tail as they make their way through the empty desert. Unfortunately for Sweet Tooth the law isn’t the only thing chasing him down. Something darker and more horrifying than he could have ever imagined follows closely behind.
Kill or Be Killed isn’t a perfect movie; in fact it has many flaws. For starters the story is a bit confusing. The outlaws searching for some hidden cash, that all makes sense and is easy to follow. But the supernatural element that is tossed in? That doesn’t seem very clear at all. When the movie ended I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened.
The acting and the characters leave a lot to be desired. Meeks and McCarthy-Boyington both give really solid performances and have interesting characters, but the rest not so much. Meeks’ Sweet Tooth is like a lot of classic western characters. He’s a scary, intimidating guy, but at the same time respectful and reasonable. He kills when he needs to, but he isn’t just out to kill. ‘Slap’ Jack Davis is sort of the hard luck comic relief. All the bad things seem to happen to him. You start to wonder how he ever managed to become such a rough and tough criminal. McCarthy-Boyington plays the part to perfection.
The film is quite violent, but that ends up being a mixed bag. There is a little too much use of CGI for the blood sprays and bullet entry points for my liking. I get it and understand why it’s done, but it always leaves me feeling like if they had just went a little further with some real squibs the end product would be so much better. It’s not all CGI, fortunately. We get some practical effects worked in here and there. In what is probably my favorite scene of the movie we see a doctor (played by the wonderful Michael Berryman) operate on a foot with a gunshot would. The whole goes all the way through the foot so you can see out the other side. It’s pretty disgusting.
The best parts of Kill or Be Killed are the gorgeous sceneries and authentic costumes. I’m from the southwest and I love a beautiful desert landscape. There’s something about a desolate desert that feels dead and alive all at once. Everything is bleak and nothing should survive in this rigid terrain, and yet because things do there is a sense of hope. And it’s not just the desert, the set pieces are fantastic too. Every good western has a great setting and Kill or Be Killed definitely succeeds in that category.
Kill or Be Killed isn’t the best modern western, but it’s a good one and worth your time. If you like bloody violence in the old west, you’re likely going to have some fun with this one.
Kill or Be Killed is out on DVD now from RLJ Entertainment.