The Kill Off (1989)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Post-Noir (Modern Noir), Crime Drama  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

Maggie Greenwald's debut feature The Kill-Off is an ugly, low budget noir that, despite significant flaws, somehow manages to capture the spirit of Jim Thompson's writing. The film is dark in content, full of unsympathetic and unattractive lowlife characters. It's darker still in its depressingly muddy images, shot by Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas), which set just the right tone, although anyone more than a few feet from the camera can be frustratingly difficult to see. The performances are uneven. Jorjan Fox is good as everyone's favorite victim, Myra, and William Russell turns in a nice performance as Rags the bartender, but these are the most low-key, sympathetic characters in the film, and the least showy roles. The actors whose characters drive the action don't fare as well. Loretta Gross, in particular, as the hateful gossip Luane is hard to take. Greenwald must have wanted to highlight the character's unpleasantness, with close-ups of Luane's mouth as she spews her gossip into the phone, as well as an ill-conceived scene of the past-her-prime Luane dancing, intercut with a stripper's routine at The Pavilion. Despite Luane's melodramatic view of the world, Gross' performance still seems over the top. But it doesn't sink the film. Greenwald, who went on to make the well-received rural character studies The Ballad of Little Jo and Songcatcher, proved her resourcefulness on this film. She shot an effective thriller on an extremely low budget. The Kill-Off takes a while to get going, but once it does, it's easy to get involved in its sleazy, convoluted story.