I am certain only of three facts about this thing after watching it, and they’re the same three facts I was certain of before I watched it: 1) It’s a movie. 2) Its title is Kill Chain. 3) Nicolas Cage is at it again, this time starring as a mercenary-turned-hotel owner named Araña (Spanish for “spider”) in one of those performances that will make you scratch your head until your face looks like this.
As far as I can tell there has apparently been literally zero promotion for its October 18 release on Amazon Prime. In fact, just about the thing ever written about Kill Chain is a brief item in The Hollywood Reporter’s 2018 coverage of Cannes at which it was announced Cage would star in the thriller described then as “in the vein of the ‘greatest detective noirs films.’ It follows three strangers’ lives as they inevitably become entangled in a conflict none of them are prepared for.”
Well, that’s one way of putting it, and a rather cogent one given the end product. A more optimistic take, perhaps, would be to consider this the next installment in Cage’s ongoing meta-performance art cycle that is seriously giving Matthew Barney a run for his money.
It begins with a moody plod through an industrial zone situated in an unnamed Latin American locale (it appears to have been shot in Colombia). Two tough guys in leather jackets exit a car, sneering around before entering the rundown Hotel Franco, which appears to be empty.
But surprise! A blood-splatted, half-dressed woman holding a pistol peers down at reception, where the tough guys are lingering. Cage’s Araña broods around in the back of the building and checks his revolver. Araña approaches the tough guys with his best “Aw shucks, I’m just a hotel clerk dudes,” impression.
Naturally, the tough guys are onto him. They confiscate his weapon. Araña mentions they took a long time circling around the block and such; the tough guys retort, saying they needed to check his photo first to confirm they had the right man. (Cue ominous synthesizers.)
But first, of course, Araña wants to tell the two murderous thugs who have come to end him a lovely story about about Franco and how Araña came to acquire his namesake hotel.
Oh, and never mind that dead body with the gun next to it slumped over on the dining table over there. That isn’t a tipoff to the bad guys that something might be awry, nor the foreshadowing of a series of events that set off a big ol’ frickin’ KILL CHAIN or anything. Nope, nothing to see here. Move along.
And move along we do. What ensues is a series of unfortunate events without rhyme or reason that begins with a middle-age sniper, inexplicably American prostitutes working the streets of a South American slum, a mysterious woman in a red dress who arrives at the hotel unannounced (who may or may not also be a prostitute?), another mysterious and vicious woman who arrives at the hotel unannounced (who may or may not be a madame?), another younger and meaner sniper named Sanchez, flashbacks to the time Araña and Franco were ordered to burn a van full of trafficked teenage girls alive, and more flashbacks as to what happens to one of the girls who Franco adopts as a daughter years later. (PS: Aside from the introduction, which literally repeats itself later in the film, Cage doesn’t appear until about 40 minutes in.)
At the end there’s an attempt to Scotch tape and bubblegum this pile of stuff along a coherent through line via the flat-out ridiculous overarching conceit that this was somehow all the bidding of a secret criminal organization with government connections called… The Organization.
An organization that puts into motion a series of seemingly unconnected events and sparks a—you guessed it—goddamn crazy-ass KILL CHAIN! One that can only be stopped by the “violent eyes and hands” of Cage’s soul-crushed Araña.
The ideal way to watch this is sprawled out on your couch while you work or surf the internet, watch another TV show, eat a burrito, or just sleep. Anything really. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent to ASMR.
It got me wondering whether perhaps the point of Kill Chain is to let your eyes glaze over, half-listen, and make up whatever you want about the plot and characters. And, honestly, you won’t have to try too hard at that even if you’re paying close attention and continually rewinding the scenes to try to figure out what happened like I did.
Any attempt to follow the story will have you running smack into incongruities, plot holes, and character issues that not even the closing credits can solve. (Seriously, almost every single character—credited in the film with neo-noirish monikers like The Lady in Red, The Old Sniper, The Very Bad Woman, etc.—is credited with a different, actual-person name like Royce or Gabrielle on IMDb.
So, with Kill Chain, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the loosely interconnected chain of wanton murder and Nic Cage. If you walk over to your couch with those expectations and not a centimeter more, you’ll have a fine time as you ponder the question: “Does a violent man really think he’s going to find peace behind a hotel desk?” Pretty sure you know the answer though.