(By Mark Gonzales) Have you ever found yourself in a miserable situation where you have to talk to a small child for a long time? Has that child then offered to tell you a joke or a story? And when this child told you their story, did it go absolutely nowhere, mean nothing, and show that individual child's fundamental inability to construct a compelling narrative? Well, that's basically what it is like to watch An Hour To Kill…
…Directed by Aaron K. Carter (Dead Kansas) and written by Carter and Ronnie Jimenez, An Hour To Kill claims to be a crime-comedy with horror elements. The film aspires to be akin to From Dusk Till Dawn and Pulp Fiction in its subject matter and narrative structure but the film's fundamental lack of compelling events and a pervasive lack of funds makes this film miss its mark by at least a mile.
Set in modern day Los Angeles, An Hour To Kill follows two hit men (one is thin and incredibly unlikable while the other is heavy set and uninteresting) as they wait to carry out their next assignment. The hit men pass the time by telling each other three unconnected, uninteresting, and ineptly filmed stories. After the boys have finished telling their tales, their own story gets resolved in a way that is as without surprises as the rest of the film.
The film is such an unappealing mess that it is difficult to imagine what a successful version of this story would look like. For days I've been trying to picture what the filmmakers were going for and can't come up with anything. I really can't conceive of what the intended purpose of this film was. Perhaps it was to demonstrate the filmmakers' ability to tell different types of stories: one story is straight horror, one is gross out humor, another violent action, and one is a creature feature. Sadly, in attempting to show their abilities, the filmmakers and actors merely manage to fail four different times and in four different ways.
The first thing a person will notice while watching this film is that it has a very, very low budget. Plenty of great films have been made for next to no money and I don't want to give the impression that money makes a movie inherently better. The Transformers franchise disproves that argument. But films that have been made on low budgets tend to be aware of the various limitations that their lack of money and time present. This film, however, was seemingly written and filmed with no consideration to what the film would look like without proper funding. While writing this, I am thinking about a reveal from one of the last segments in the film. Throughout this segment, entitled "Hog Hunters", I was certain that the group of antagonists that were fighting our heroes were heavyset men in terrible masks. I was surprised, confused, and disappointed to learn that all along, these were supposed to be part-man/part-pig creatures. It is difficult to imagine why a person would write into their film these chimaeras when the budget simply isn't there to present something believable.
Ambition should be encouraged and applauded but when the result of that ambition is as monumental a failure as this film, one begins to wish the filmmakers had scaled things back a bit. The decision to have four individual stories (three stories plus the hit men's lens) is one that confuses me to this day. It is generally hard enough to come up with one interesting narrative but coming up with four seems to have sunk this project from the start. I wish Carter had consolidated his efforts and tried to make one very good short film instead of trying to tell all the tales that are contained in this films 96-minute runtime. It'd be much easier to evaluate his skills in a shorter format.
The first story that we are given is about a group of teenage girls who go to an abandoned Nazi Bunker in search of wild marijuana bushes. Where else would you find wild marijuana? One at a time, the girls are picked off by… somebody. It doesn't really matter who it is. Before I had realized how many stories I would be shown by this film, I had assumed that we would follow this horror standard for the majority of the run time. I was wrong. The most simple, most narratively solid story line is over in a few minutes. I wouldn't say the story ends or concludes per say. None of the stories have that luxury. They all just stop at a certain point having revealed nothing of interest or displaying any sort of thematic cohesiveness.
The second story, the terribly titled "Assacre" is a shockingly unenjoyable gross out tale. Everything about it is poorly done. From the story itself, to the camera work (I don't think you could call this cinematography), to the acting, everything about this story fails on every level. The viewer will alternate between asking what is happening and why is it happening while watching this segment.
The final segment, the aforementioned "Hog Hunters," is as close to a complete story as this film ever gets. There's a beginning, a middle, and pretty close to an ending although there is again a lack of anything having been revealed by the end of the story. While this segment lacks the pure gross out humor of "Assacre" there is plenty to dislike about this story as well.
Generally, artist's intent is entirely unimportant to me. It really doesn't matter to me whether or not Ridley Scott believes that Decker was a replicant or if Christopher Nolan thinks Cobb made it out of all the dream levels. What matters is what is on the screen. An Hour To Kill is possibly the first film where there is so little that is on the screen that I desperately want to know what the filmmakers and actors were intending. Are the over the top performances a choice or the result of trying to inject terrible writing with some energy? Are the different stories supposed to be connected thematically or spiritually? I really don't know.
How does one make a compelling film with little to no budget? How do films like The Blair Witch Project or El Mariachi manage to succeed, not just financially, but artistically as well, when they have very little money? The answer is that the makers of these films knew what they had, what they could get for cheap, and what they were capable of. In the case of An Hour To Kill, the filmmakers did not have good actors, a script worth filming, or the time and equipment necessary to put four distinct stories on the screen.
An Hour To Kill is a needless film that, in attempting to tell several stories, forgets to tell one that is interesting or well made enough to be entertaining.
An Hour to Kill is now available to rent on Amazon.
By Mark Gonzales