by Hope Madden
A stylish indie ride through the seedier side of filmmaking, James Smith’s Casting Kill delivers laughs and surprises on a shoestring.
The anxiety at the core of Casting Kill exploits an actor’s vulnerability. There are countless openings for a predator to take advantage, including desperation for a role and personal insecurities. It’s staggering what an actor might put up with – might make themselves see as “eccentricity” – in order to get a gig.
In this case, they have to put up with Arthur Capstone, whose eccentricities run deep. Smug, self-important and biting, Capstone somehow still wants you to relax as you audition for him. Specifically, he’d like you to close your eyes.
Rob Laird is Capstone, an identity thief passing himself off as a Hollywood casting director. But stealing hapless actors’ identities is hardly this guy’s biggest kink.
Hopeful after hopeful arrives, each starry-eyed for the big break. The film has the most fun in this early montage of mostly terrible auditions. It’s a laugh that makes the film’s final moments land with a smirk and a chuckle.
Gareth Tidball is a charmer in a small, doomed role – though she keeps delivering even when her lines have run out. Andrew Elias injects a bit of macabre fun into an almost unending supply of creepy characters.
Caroline Spence’s script has a grisly blast with this conceit, looking at the casting process from every angle to give the film a “behind the curtain” vibe that suits it.
Smith’s direction intentionally recalls Hitchcock, a theme amplified by Shaun Finnegan’s score. Framing, camera angles, and in particular Smith’s use of color give the film an unsettling, off-kilter vibe that helps to offset Casting Kill’s lack of movement and action. Smith makes the most of the film’s tight quarters with shots that are equally lovely and bizarre.
From Starry Eyes to Neon Demon to Pearl and more, indie horror never seems to run out of horror stories about trying to make it big. That’s scary and a little sad in itself, but the result is, once again, a thoroughly entertaining film.