Dir. James Smith (2023)
When an identity thief poses as a casting director for a major film, the actors looking for their big break discover that auditions can be murder.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
This is the second of director James Smith and writer Caroline Spence’s films that I have reviewed (with the first being Surveilled), this time taking aim at some of the skeevy practices inside the film industry and the inherent potential harm in a business that is chock-full of powerful people who stand between those looking for fame and fortune and the jobs that will provide them with the opportunities to achieve it. Casting Kill is a carefully measured response to the #MeToo movement, one that discusses the predatory nature of the industry and how exactly the people involved found themselves in such a predicament. Of course, it does so through a horror-based lens, as Arthur Capstone shows what happens when a grifter who also happens to be a serial killer decides to play a casting director in his latest con.
Laird is fantastic and creepy as Capstone, and the ever-increasing number of hopeful stars and starlets serve as cannon fodder to his darker impulses. He seems to be primarily concerned with stealing cash from his victims while they audition, but he is seemingly unable to help himself when he finds himself standing behind the beautiful actresses trying out for a part as he removes his belt and uses it as a garotte. He’s creepy, unsettling, and an excellent depiction of a studio executive who enjoys manipulating people into positions of weakness, despite the fact that his job title itself is a ruse.
The score for the film is excellent, Hitchcockian in all the best ways while also serving as the staccato drive behind Capstone’s violent acts. The film itself doesn’t shy away from Hitchcock’s influence either, feeling like a tribute to the great auteur without stealing from his repertoire. The mystery is not who the criminal is, of course: Capstone’s icky Weinstein impression is apparent from the very first scene, his boorish vulgarity making him more and more unlikeable. The mystery in the film, like in life, was who exactly is going to stop him and how. While Capstone is a bit on-the-nose as a villain, it’s not too difficult to imagine an all-powerful casting director or producer behaving in much the same way once they are assured of the impenetrable fortress that is (or used to be, in any case) Hollywood. By inserting the character into a suspense film where his crimes are laid bare, Smith is able to create a film that is as much Psycho as anything else, a slasher without much blood and a horror without many scares.
The film is definitely horror, though, even if the on-screen shenanigans will make you shudder in disgust more than fear. The acting is much better than in Smith’s Surveilled, which felt more gimmicky and hampered by the toll the pandemic took on shooting. Laird really is good, hamming it up as the Snidely Whiplash-esque con artist, and Jack Forsyth-Noble and Rachel Chima’s aspiring actors Domenic and Ruby are standouts amongst the rather large cast for an indie film. The film carries itself much larger than it should be able, and while it isn’t going to float everyone’s boat, it is a delightful callback to old Hollywood while skewering the same. It’s well worth a look for fans of the mystery-suspense-thriller side of horror.
Who this movie is for: Thriller fans, Hitchcock devotees, Aspiring actors
Bottom line: A pitch-perfect (though sometimes over-the-top) take on the #MeToo scandal, Casting Kill does a fantastic job of bringing 60’s Hollywood drama and suspense into modern indie horror. The acting is great, the direction is excellent, and even the writing is hitting on all cylinders. While I enjoyed director James Smith’s earlier film Surveilled, this one is far-and-away a better film and definitely worth a watch. I’ve never been a huge fan of Hitchcock, but I can certainly appreciate what he brings to the table and the influence he has had on every film since, and this film is Hitchcockian like I’ve never seen in indie horror. Check this one out if you get the chance.