SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains spoilers about the reason for all the killing.
Years ago, Indian director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat fell asleep on a cross-country train ride, only to discover upon reaching his destination that the cars on either side of his had been robbed by armed bandits, known as “dacoits.” The heist couldn’t have been too intense, or it would have awakened him, but it got the helmer’s gears turning about what a truly terrifying train raid might look like. The answer: “Kill,” in which a crew of 40-odd thieves board a train, intending to steal passengers’ watches and phones, then turn bloodthirsty after running into a pair of hardheaded commandos.
As brutal a film as the country has ever produced, “Kill” is a shockingly graphic action showcase from an industry that typically plays violence in a more cartoony register. “Overkill” probably would have been a better title, considering how far Bhat takes each and every altercation, milking it for maximum vengeance.
It’s the kind of movie where, when studly Amrit (“Porus” star Lakshya) grabs a fire extinguisher and smashes a doomed thug’s cranium into dog food, the theater erupts with applause, effectively raising the question: Does it qualify as “excessive” if the audience keeps clamoring for more?
Apart from a brief prologue in which Amrit rushes cross-country to crash the engagement party of childhood sweetheart Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), the movie takes place entirely on board a crowded train to New Delhi. Under different circumstances, this could have been a romantic voyage. Amrit pulls Tulika into a lavatory and shuts the door, getting down on one knee to offer the engaged woman a better proposal. Sadly, before either can say “till death do us part,” death does them part. The film’s blunt title appears in blood-spattered all-caps right smack at the 45-minute mark, immediately after a hothead named Fani (Raghav Juyal) gives Amrit reason to see red. With our hero thus triggered, “Kill” suddenly sounds like a command.
What the couple didn’t realize while they were making googly eyes at each other in the bathroom, criminals have infiltrated the other compartments (which can be cut off from one another by sliding doors made of corrugated metal). When the dacoits whip out their weapons — mostly hammers and knives meant more for show than inflicting actual harm — the passengers start to panic. By far the most evil of the thieves, Fani recognizes Tulika’s wealthy father (Harsh Chhaya) and figures that kidnapping the family will fetch a handsome ransom.
Until this point, intimidation has been their main strategy, but they didn’t count on the commandos, who’ve been trained in multiple forms of martial arts. Amrit and his comrade Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) feel like throwbacks to the early-’90s Steven Seagal school of action heroes. You can punch, stab or shoot them, and they just keep coming. Early on, Viresh overreacts and kills the gang’s leader.
Ironically, everyone probably could have made it to their destination unharmed if not for this heroic act, which turns the dacoits from being a nuisance into a vengeance-seeking superorganism: Like so many fire ants swarming the train, they follow Fani’s commands. The train slows down at one point and Fani’s father, Beni (Ashish Vidyarthi), boards, issuing a separate set of orders. The new boss says, “Kill!” Fani says, “Kidnap!”
These conflicting instructions succeed in keeping alive the characters we care about (well, most of them anyway). Even with three dozen henchmen, the dacoits are no match for the two commandos. For the next hour, the characters barrel back and forth through the sleeper cars, swinging blades and body-slamming their opponents into bunk beds, sliding doors and, in one especially satisfying kill, a head-splitting toilet seat. The movie hardly ever turns its gaze out the windows, but the scenery never gets old, since Bhat has a head for creative close-quarters combat.
In the surprisingly robust category of locomotive-driven action movies, “Kill” is a lot better than “Bullet Train,” but no “Train to Busan” — to focus on just two recent Asia-set examples. Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” is probably the more obvious comparison. “Kill” features the same fight choreographer as that movie, Se-yeong Oh, reuniting with “War” partner Parvez Shaikh to execute its ever-changing and diverse action repertoire. Does it get tiresome? Only if you’re looking for something other than killing from a movie called “Kill.”
The romantic digressions are just that: distractions from the carnage. To justify our hero’s berserker spree (spoiler alert: skip this paragraph if you want the catalyst for the killing to come as a surprise), Bhat figures what happens to Tulika must upset the audience as much as it does Amrit. The whole movie is sadistic, but it’s Tulika’s fate that seems the most cruel, compounded by a few too many lovey-dovey flashbacks. Funny that these should seem more gratuitous than the disturbingly realistic violence.
The body count is up there in “John Wick” territory, as the foley artists pulverize more melons and celery stalks than your typical V8 processing plant. Countless veggies were harmed in the making of this movie, just to get all those juicy sound effects. Ask yourself: What would constitute a happy ending for such a film? It doesn’t matter. The objective here is to incur maximum damage, replacing the pain of those memories with the satisfaction of the kill.