If you’re looking for a date movie that will get your blood pumping (or just want to wind-down from the work week by indulging in some adrenaline), BiTS’s Friday evening fare includes Kill Order, a SF action-thriller written and directed by James Mark, known for his extensive work in stunt performance and coordination.

Kill Order’s killer action sequences featuring slick, well-shot fight choreography kept me engaged despite its well-tread and formulaic plot: a person with dangerous and/or valuable skills and/or powers escapes from government institution and must fight off their pursuers. There is a reason why this film works as well as it does, and his name is Chris Mark. Mark plays protagonist David Lee, the unwilling hero whose traumatic past and inexplicable powers make him the target of a well-trained group of special ops agents intent on taking him down.

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Mark is the compelling heart of the film, his vulnerability and martial arts skills elevate the film from a competent and stylishly-shot action film with a slight script into something kind of special. He is an accomplished stunt actor, having appeared in Pacific Rim, Scott Pilgrim v. The World, Suicide Squad, and Nikita. While he has an impressive list of stunt credits, he has had few acting roles — he played an unnamed tribute in The Hunger Games (2012) and assorted gang members and henchman. Kill Order is Mark’s first starring role, and he doesn’t waste it.

The film begins with disturbing, frenetic, and nightmarish visions, a device that continues throughout the film and does much of the heavy lifting in explaining David’s backstory. The scenes sans-David that illuminate the machinations of the shadowy, covert organization responsible for creating the killer puppets are a little overdone; the dialogue of the smarmy man-in-charge a little cheesy and the delivery a little too on-the-nose. But these scenes are few and far between, thankfully. Frankly, I could have done without them; the flashbacks alone add just enough information to satisfy and are brief enough that they don’t slow the story down. Audio mix issues afflicting my screener made some of the dialogue difficult to hear, which may have been part of my problem — hopefully, this is corrected in the theatrical version.

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I appreciated many of the editing choices — flashbacks come in violent, disjointed bursts, which help to place us in David’s headspace. Cinematographer Justin Lovell does some fantastic work, particularly during several of the fight scenes. One of my favourite battle sequences takes place in a wooded setting against a gorgeous backdrop of vibrant green, the ground dappled dramatically with sunlight. One artistically-shot death scene 50 minutes in had me gasping. A palette very heavy on golds and pale oranges keeps it looking fresh and visually distinct, and the film offers a great synthy, moody, 80s-influenced score.

Catch Kill Order on Friday, November 24th at 7:00 pm at The Royal Cinema, preceded by the Toronto premiere of Brendon Rathbone’s gritty and beautifully-shot Mad Max flavoured action short Marauder, set in a compelling post-apocalyptic universe where bandits thrive.

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