I’ll be honest. Of all of the entries in 2010’s After Dark Horrorfest, Kill Theory was the film I was least looking forward to. The teaser bits I’d seen in the After Dark reel made it look like a cheap, teen-centric Saw ripoff, replete with an unseen Jigsaw-esque protagonist with a penchant for moral lessons and videotapes. The thing is, Kill Theory is nothing like those few scenes intimated, but is, instead, a fun, fast-paced, and exceptionally well-crafted slasher, and, after wading through six of this year’s 8 Films to Die For, my favorite thus far.
The film opens with an unseen mental patient (whose voice most genre fans will recognize from the get-go, but I’ll preserve the “surprise”, despite the fact that IMDB already ruined it), undergoing an exit-interview with the institution’s psychiatrist, Dr. Truftin (Don McManus). Despite the fact that he’s signing off on the patient’s release, Truftin isn’t entirely convinced that his patient realizes that his act of self-preservation was wrong. The patient seems to think that any man in the same position would do the same thing, but Truftin vehemently disagrees, and signs the release with the caveat that the patient return for regular visits until the doctor is satisfied that he’s seen the error of his ways.
Sometime later, we meet Brent (Teddy Dunn) and his college pals, who have taken over Brent’s father’s isolated lakeside retreat to celebrate their impending graduation. The guest list includes Brent’s pill-popping girlfriend, Amber (Ryanne Duzich), the party-hearty Carlos (Theo Rossi) and Nicole (Steffi Wickens), lovebirds Michael and Jennifer (Patrick Flueger and Agnes Bruckner), and, going stag, cuddly fat guy, Freddy (Daniel Franzese). When the gang arrive at Brent’s dad’s house, however, they discover that Brent’s white-trash step-sister, Alex (Taryn Manning), has taken up residence. Still, there’s no conflict that can’t be smoothed over with a little booze, and, after a hard night of drinking, the gang all retire to their respective sleeping quarters in to rest up before doing it all again tomorrow.
That is, if there is a tomorrow.
You see, there’s another uninvited guest, and he’s been watching Brent and his buddies for quite some time. He’s watched and waited and studied, and, now, he’s going to put them to the test. Soon, one of the guests turns up dead, as does a video tape containing an ultimatum; kill or be killed. If more than one person is alive come sunup, everyone dies. There’s nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide, leaving it up to each of our “heroes” to confront their primal nature and determine their fate.
While Kill Theory isn’t a particularly original film (we’ve seen similar themes of self-preservation explored in everything from the aforementioned Saw films and Cube series to the little-seen House of Nine), it’s a slick and suspenseful slasher, with a few surprises (as well as some effective jump scares) up its sleeves. The cast is a better-than-average group of young actors, with Bruckner (The Woods), Dunn, and the excellent Franzese turning in strong performances. Franzese, in particular, expertly balances histrionics and hilarity as the frazzled Freddy, while first time director, Chris Moore (of Project: Greenlight fame, and producer of such films as Joy Ride and Feast) shows he’s certainly learned a thing or two in his years of as a producer, crafting a highly-polished, exceptionally violent, and very clever little horror flick that may very well be one of the best direct-to-video examples of the genre I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been running this site.
Lionsgate releases Kill Theory as part of the 8 Films to Die For Collection, and presents it in a very nice 1.85:1 transfer that boasts exceptional clarity and vibrance, as well as nicely balanced contrast. Much of the film takes place in dimly lit interiors, and black levels are deep and true, with just a hint of fine grain. There’s an occasional spot of digital crush here and there, but, when viewing the film on a large format television, such anomalies are bound to be present when dealing with standard definition media upscaled by Blu-ray player. Personally, I found the overall quality of the image quite pleasing, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix compliments the video quite nicely, with solid bass presence, a well-balanced surround mix, and crystal clear dialogue.
Extras include alternate opening sequences, a deleted scene, and a short behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as trailers for other Lionsgate releases and promotional reels for After Dark productions.
I love a good surprise, and Kill Theory surprised the hell out of me. What surprises me more is that this film's apparently been languishing on the shelves somewhere since 2008, while far lesser horror films (The Final Destination, anyone?) get wide releases. While torture porn fans may be disappointed that it’s nothing like the film its trailers suggest it is, slasher fans will find much to love here, as it’s reminiscent of some of said genre’s more sophisticated offerings. While Moore’s directorial debut liberally borrows elements from a host of horror and suspense flicks, the end result is a deviously entertaining, well-crafted, and fast-paced slasher/thriller hybrid that stands out as the gem of this year’s After Dark Horrorfest collection. Well worth checking out!