Directed by Mike Mendez
Screened at Fantastic Fest 2016
Judging from the crowd’s reaction at its recent Fantastic Fest screening, I am convinced that Don’t Kill It might ultimately fare best with the general public if it is retitled Dolph Lundgren: Demon Hunter. The action star’s name alone elicited wild cheers from the crowd of viewers excited to see the actor do he does best: kick ass. With Don’t Kill It, Lundgren, who wore a big smile at the screening, seems to have found himself elevated once again as a genre icon synonymous with unapologetic, head-blasting, bone-smashing force.
Don’t Kill It, which comes to us from director Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!, The Gravedancers) and screenwriters Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (Body), tells the story of an ancient, body-hopping demon that is unleashed in the sleepy town of Chicory Creek, Mississippi. After a string of gruesome murders, FBI agent Evelyn Pierce (Klebe, 2007’s Halloween) returns to Chicory Creek, her hometown, to investigate the happenings. Before she can properly begin her work, however, Agent Pierce crosses paths with a self-proclaimed demon hunter named Jebediah Woodley (Lundgren), a boozed up renegade who claims that the force at work is supernatural and that only he knows how to stop it. Although initially skeptical, Agent Pierce soon realizes that she is out of her league as the happenings grow more bizarre and the bodies pile up, and she reluctantly teams up with Jebediah to put an end to the madness once and for all.
On the surface, Don’t Kill It has all of the makings of a standard Syfy original action-horror offering; the dialogue is often ridiculous, the action sequences outrageous, and the characterization is relatively thin. However, the plus side here is that Mendez’s film most definitely knows what it is and how to have a blast with it. This is particularly evidenced in its opening scene, which is a rollicking exercise in over-the-top hyperviolence. The demonic villain here, which has the power to hop from the body of its current host to the body of the person that ultimately kills the host, sends its possessees into shrieking, black-eyed rages, which alone makes for wildly entertaining scenes of hack-and-slash mayhem. One particular scene involving the demon and a town meeting is the film’s most gleeful highlight, allowing Mendez to indulge wholly in demonic pandemonium and Lundgren to deliver straight-faced beatdowns in the way that we have come to love over the years.
The joy of Don’t Kill It, however, comes from the fact that it is not solely upheld by overtly serious, deadpan action sequences. In addition to simply being a badass here, Lundgren’s Jebediah is actually quite hilarious as well, with the action star showing a tongue-in-cheek awareness for his craft that is refreshing and exactly what a movie like this needs. He is notably responsible for some of the film’s best jokes, which often even feel improvised; there is a brief, but memorably offbeat moment during a restaurant scene involving a tree had me losing it, and Lundgren delivers an early monologue about the importance of consensual sex that elicited huge laughs. It is quite a shift to see Klebe play the straightwoman against Lundgren’s humorously dry, but unpredictable Jebediah, but the dynamic between the two works especially well in Don’t Kill It and you come to love them as a demon-fighting team.
Visually, Mendez seeks to lay on the excess in outrageous ways here, which is to be expected after films like Big Ass Spider! and the Syfy original Lavantula. Many of Don’t Kill It‘s deaths and action sequences are wildly busy here in the best way and provide enough practical blood and gore to make genre fanboys squeal with glee. The special effects, particularly those involving the demon’s essence, do grow a bit silly, but even those moments are amusing in their clunkiness. My only complaint would be that the film deserved a bigger and badder finale; the final showdown would have certainly been better served in a grander setting and it would have been nice to see the enjoyable Klebe get more moments of her own badassery throughout. A film like this could also benefit from a bit more humor, as the droll interactions between Jebediah and the townspeople and the more left-of-center one-liners provided some of Don’t Kill It‘s best moments.
In any case, Don’t Kill It is far more fun and self-aware than many might expect it to be–especially given its current direct-to-video-action-flick promotional art. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing this serve as the beginning of a Jebediah Woodley franchise, and I can imagine that the action star feels the same after seeing the enthusiastic audience response to the on-screen appearance of his name alone. Lundgren has always shined in such quirky, yet commanding genre roles, and given that he seems to be truly having a blast here, I say bring on more demon-killing mayhem for him.