Cast: Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell
Director: Dan Krauss
I don’t know if I was emotionally prepared to handle The Kill Team before I watched it. This movie deals with a very twisted reality that’s happened during the US occupation of the Middle East, but seeing it dramatized takes it to a new level instead of just reading it. I know Krauss worked on a very well-received documentary on the subject a few years ago, but being able to add some dramatic elements will certainly increase viewers and make them aware of what happens when you put people in danger and then create a power dynamic. Powerful, captivating, and haunting, The Kill Team shows us the underbelly of the military and what happens when evil people manipulate others into doing their bidding.
The film follows Andrew Briggman (Wolff), a young man who decides to enlist in the army to protect the country and eliminate threats in Afghanistan. When he meets Sergeant Deeks (Skarsgard), his commanding officer with a very different set of ethics, Andrew must decide whether or not to follow Deeks orders even if it means violating his personal orders or to defy Deeks and put his life at risk. When you think of the military, traditionally you think of people who risk their lives so that Americans can have the rights they take for granted on a daily basis. The far majority of people who join exhibit this behavior under a level of pressure that many of us will realistically never be under. However, there is a portion of people who join for their own sadistic purposes, and Deeks and his crew are some of those soldiers. Skarsgard nails the behavior of a person in power using their influence to get whatever they want out of their subordinates. The crazy thing is to a degree the way he justifies everything makes sense. He never views what he’s doing as evil and rationalizes it by saying if these people don’t die they’ll help the Taliban kill Americans. For a person in power to have this extreme of a viewpoint on self-preservation is an Ayn Randian interpretation of war and if everyone believed that then every war would be littered with civilian casualties. I’m much more focused on the plot of this movie just because it’s so real and repulsive, but at the same time it’s something we all need to realize about the world. When an “us vs. them” situation is created abusive people can rise to power and morph even the sanest of people into monsters. This movie feels as though it’s dramatizing the real-life events of a war version of The Stanford Prison Experiment and it’s shocking to see this still happens. Wolff isn’t a particularly strong lead in this movie, but the horror surrounding him may be too overwhelming for him to handle. If that’s the case than a recast may have made this movie better, but the source material alone makes The Kill Team one of the most horrifying movie experiences of the year.
Overall, The Kill Team is yet another one of the A24 movies that they let slide under the radar this year. Maybe they thought that people who think criticizing troops in any way means you hate America wouldn’t watch this movie, but at the same time they’re the ones who need to watch it the most. While I believe more than enough people know the stress that soldiers in combat are under, I don’t know how many people know that seem people resort to this level of violence to relieve that stress. We need to hold everyone accountable and get people the help they need so that the events depicted in The Kill Team become a thing of the past.
Overall Score: 7/10