New Zealand director Jason Lei Howden’s sophomore film is a highly stylised, ultra-violent and inspired shoot-em-up that gleefully melds movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Nerve.
Having summoned the Devil in his gnarly heavy metal splatter-comedy Deathgasm (2015), Howden ups the ante here with a bigger budget, bigger cast and, well, bigger everything, to tell a cyberpunk story about a computer geek who finds himself starring in a live streaming show called Skizm.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Miles, a self-confessed “troll hunter” who trawls internet forums to combat trolls. Out of the blue a band of violent thugs break down his door, knock him unconscious and bolt two semi-automatic guns to his hands (yes, literally bolted into his flesh). Upon waking Miles is told that he must kill or be killed and that his opponent is Nix (Samara Weaving), an undisputed champion of the game, and that millions of online subscribers are watching.
The premise is highly contrived and conjures memories of Series 7, The Running Man and even The Truman Show (amongst others), but with its whiplash pacing and frenetic editing it’s energised to the max and pounds the viewer to a pulp with its action sequences and pulsating soundtrack.
Although set in America, many astute Australasians will undoubtedly recognise the movie’s New Zealand roots, which serves it well. There’s a certain unique quality to Kiwi films, which embody a charm that’s hard to define. Similar to the earlier works of Peter Jackson, or perhaps the quirkiness of Housebound, Guns Akimbo features unusual camera angles and distorted perspectives, which help bring the characters to life.
Radcliffe continues to impress with his ongoing commitment to strange and eccentric films. Never one to choose safe projects, he persistently opts for the more creative and artistically daring titles, and Guns Akimbo is a testament to that. He commits fully to the story, with his hands bound for the entire duration, his feet stuck in fluffy slippers and a dressing robe with a mind of its own. And Samara Weaving is fantastic as his punkish nemesis; with moves to rival Lara Croft, she trapezes across the screen in a flurry of gunfire while still chewing the fat and spitting insults at her rivals.
At times the film’s ambition does impede its delivery, with the limits of the budget showing on occasion. There are also a few current pop-cultural references that put a time-stamp on the film that may hinder its longevity. Nevertheless, the otherwise chaotic and colourful design of Guns Akimbo is infectious and exhilarating. Jason Lei Howden is a director to keep tabs on and might just be the next Edgar Wright, James Gunn or Gareth Evans.
Catch Guns Akimbo at special event screenings across Australia on February 28, thanks to Madman Films and Monster Fest. Participating cinemas and tickets are here.