SeeThink’s King Kelly gets a New York Theatrical release this week and is also currently available on VOD. The low-budget feature follows a twenty something hanger-on living at home, her ditsy best friend and total bummer of an ex-boyfriend. But that’s about as typical as Kelly gets. The self-promoted actress/model (played by Louisa Krause) is also a rent-girl who affords her bumbling lifestyle by shooting explicit videos of herself and broadcasting them in live chat rooms. She also occasionally hustles drugs. And it’s all just small-time, until today, a 24-hour period cut down to a feature length film, that documents what amounts to be her worst…day…ever!
When Kelly’s boyfriend Ryan–played by one-note-“can you believe this girl” Will Brill–takes back his car he also takes with him a payload of heroin. Ryan shuts off all communication with Kelly, and for a girl who’s 4G network is her lifeline, this is a big problem. As such, Ryan becomes the plot’s greatest conflict, if not an outright villain. The real villain is the dealer who may or may not know anything about all this. That’s because we never see the man in charge. Instead, we experience his presence only through the oppressive control of his henchmen, who are both angered and perplex by Kelly’s carelessness.
Kelly’s casual indifference becomes increasingly more disturbing as these guys grow more and more desperate. Her only redemption is in the telling of “her” story. It’s about her descent from naive, minor celebrity to near social oblivion, drawing in her girlfriend and a highway patrol cop who are only second and third to Kelly in their shamelessness. So when a drug dealer’s evil hands come knocking, we become increasingly anxious about Kelly’s livelihood. Notwithstanding her lack of drive which raises the stakes of the second half of the film even further.
At this point, King Kelly turns into a road movie. Kelly and her best friend Jordan (Libby Woodridge) drive between New York and New Jersey, making pit-stops along the way that reveal the disconnect in their friendship, and later, Kelly’s increasingly weird relationship with a fan of her website. But this is no Two-Lane Blacktop. Kelly’s narcissism prevails above all. Even when the dealers becoming increasingly hostile she always finds a distraction, be it boys, booze or a slipshod bathroom photo-shoot. This only compounds our anxiety. We hope that Jordan will reach out and put her back on track, but instead she descends–brilliantly–into a sedated, drug-induced state, absent of thought. Jordan’s absent-mindedness is a sort of coping mechanism and Woodridge plays this with so much knowledge, it’s almost scary.
Kelly is shot entirely on iPhones, mostly from the protagonists’ own, occasionally cutting to her best friend’s device for coverage. Though it seems more like an economic concern than a creative choice. The actors are behind the cameras, not cameramen. In sum, this film was made to watch on video. The absolute visual chaos that comes from running about with a 4.4 inch device that weighs 11 oz, is enough to make anyone nauseous. And if this makes it more “real” as it seems like the director is trying to achieve, it does absolutely nothing to contribute to a visual style. Increasingly, I’m finding that as the “found footage” style gets older and uses the cheap visual trope to casts a wider net, the profoundly weird ability to shock and scare using it is becoming diminished (see End of Watch, Paranormal Activity 4). Then again, maybe this is for another audience—I’m 26 folks-that imagines an absence of networking as an absolute horror, where one becomes marooned, unoccupied and above all…. alone!
But here, I feel like I’m setting myself up. The creators seem absolutely content in their portrayal of these characters because they are at once familiar, detestable and relevant. However, they’re still just archetypes, with the exception of Roderick Hill. I’d be remiss not to mention Hill‘s at once timeless and terrifying performance that should have Harmony Korine on the phone if he knows what’s good for us. And despite all the brutality and desperation and empathy we experience with them, they are totally flat. A viewer could watch and walk away, or at least I did, without even the slightest change of heart. I felt cheated. I hated each character, and I only stuck around to watch that sentiment be realized . But violence is not enough. Especially from SeeThink. This film has only reprimanded these characters like a responsible, but deaf parent. The conversation has not evolved. Instead, it’s succumbed to exploitation. We end up in a place so similar to the insular world these kids live in: where a complex question is satisfied by a messy, polarizing answer. And if you tried to call the Director Andrew Neel out on it, I’m sure you’d get as far as “you’re totally missing the point.” And, I mean, who can argue with that?
Overall grade: C-