Tim Smit’s Kill Switch, a first-person sci-fi caper that transforms the known world into a futuristic evacuation zone, looks and feels like something Neil Blomkamp might dream up. An expansion of Smit’s What’s in the Box?, a short that went viral in 2009, the film exists in a world where privatized police drones proliferate as energy resources dwindle. Its hero, Will Porter (Dan Stevens), is a wide-eyed ex-NASA pilot and physicist who’s been poached by a secretive corporation called Alterplex. The company’s grand scheme is to create a parallel Earth, called The Echo, that will serve as a perpetual energy resource for our planet, a plan that succumbs to a combination of corruption and calamity. Most of Kill Switch elapses from Will’s point of view, after he dons a “brain computer interface” and ventures toward a gleaming blue pulse of energy in order to disable Alterplex’s power plant.
With its video-game aesthetics (the special effects achieve a base level of adequacy on a home-video system) and mirror universes complete with gravitational rifts that cause massive boats and planes to get sucked between worlds, Kill Switch stitches elements of Edge of Tomorrow, Hardcore Henry, and Donnie Darko into a narrative that feels fleet and logical in the moment but nearly impossible to sort out in retrospect. This dynamic is becoming something of a specialty for Stevens, who navigates the film’s literal and thematic alleyways with the same enthusiastic befuddlement that convinced many viewers to soldier through Legion’s more impenetrable stretches. Will is skeptical of his employers but oblivious to their malevolent long-term plans, and in flashbacks, Stevens sells his character’s blend of wariness and naïveté with a range of bemused facial expressions.
A dull but highly animated hero caring for an unusual family, Will is the surrogate father to his sister Mia’s (Charity Wakefield) son, Donny (Kasper van Groesen). This arrangement adds a layer of intrigue to scenes of otherwise bland emotion, but Kill Switch is too busy trudging across a terminally gray Dutch setting to dig much into biography. Smit also repeatedly nullifies other neat ideas with similar haste. The user interface through which we view most of the action, manipulated with Minority Report-style hand movements, is the source of plenty of amusement (Will is repeatedly advised to seek treatment for possible concussions), but it tends to raise questions that the film isn’t designed to answer: Why are the private police chasing Will issuing arrest warrants, and why is Will wearing a device that tracks his movements?
Kill Switch’s visual gambit is emblematic of its limitations, as this is a film about getting a box (the titular device, called a “redivider”) to a tower a few miles across a militarized evacuation zone, and the difficulties encountered therein have almost nothing to do with parallel worlds and tears in the stratosphere. But while Kill Switch is rote and impersonal, it embraces the relentless forward motion that suggests the first-person action film will remain a disposable but diverting sliver of the low-budget sci-fi landscape.