EIFF 2023: Rodger Griffiths on Kill
Kill, the debut feature from Rodger Griffiths, sees three brothers plan to off their abusive dad while on a hunting trip. Griffiths talks to us about shooting this lean, mean thriller, which has its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival
It feels odd calling a film about brothers murdering their abusive dad on a hunting trip 'accessible', but any film about parents and children benefits from an audience bringing along their own complicated experiences. It helps that Kill’s familial dynamics are so well-observed by writer-director Rodger Griffiths, not to mention his brilliant Scottish cast. “Siblings have a real shorthand with each other,” Griffiths says. “There are no niceties, they do each other's nut in, but they love each other. It's different from friends.”
When the film begins, the three brothers, Henry (Daniel Portman), John (Brian Vernel) and youngest Vince (Calum Ross) are all committed to dispatching their domineering father, Don (Paul Higgins), but there’s a sense that none of them are psychologically on the exact same page. To establish their relationships, Griffiths got the actors to improvise backstories between the brothers and sometimes their parents, sketching out psychological relationships that the audience didn’t need to see.
“After their mum died, we thought we’d have Vince trying on one of his mum’s dresses and the brothers discovering that,” Griffiths explains. “A lot of what happens on the screen, there's been talk about before between the characters. I thought it would be good to do those off-script improvisations so they can live in the characters’ skin for a little bit.”
Kill is based on Griffiths’ short Take the Shot from 2017, which, like Kill will, premiered at Edinburgh International Film Festival. The short was shot with Irish actors in Northern Ireland (where Griffiths is from), but the shift to Scotland felt natural. “Northern Irish and Scottish people have very similar traits and senses of humour – quite macabre and self-deprecating,” says Griffiths. “There's a warmth there as well. I think if you put a Scottish person in Ireland or Northern Ireland, they’d be just fine, and vice versa.”
Griffiths speaks from experience – he’s lived in Glasgow for over 20 years – but still stresses his film’s broader resonance. “I still think that Kill has universal themes. I feel it could be set in the deep south of America, or South Korea. Because of this whole idea, can you escape from an abusive upbringing or do you become that person? So I'm looking forward to the Australian remake.”
Griffiths has been waiting to shoot Kill since before the pandemic, and when they got the go-ahead to roll cameras in Kilmarnock’s Craufurdland Estate they had to contend with a reduced 21-day shooting schedule. “That's what we just had to do,” he says. “We just had to simplify certain things; instead of getting so many setups and angles, we had to work within our parameters. You could spend ages on one scene and not get the two scenes at the end of the day – we didn't want to do that.
“The circumstances for making a film, especially an independent film, are never perfect. It's rare to get the opportunity to make an independent film, so if that opportunity arises you dive in and just give it your best basically, and see what happens in the end.”
Griffiths credits his cast and crew for pulling it off, always discovering ways to lighten the load of shooting a 90-minute feature in three weeks. “[The estate] had big forests, but each part had a different vibe and feeling to it. In terms of practicality, you can't move a unit about that much, it just kills time,” he explains. “So we said, 'Right, we're shooting this scene at this angle, we're shooting this scene 20 metres away, just move forward and move forward.' We wanted to create the feeling that the brothers have been on a journey, so the forest is wide open at the start, but then as you get in and in, it becomes more claustrophobic.”
It wasn’t just practical alternatives Kill benefited from on set; the actors offered narrative ones too. “An example would be the scene in the barn, where the brothers all get drunk," explains Griffiths. "We had written the entire scene where Henry was jumping about doing impressions of his dad, slagging him off and everybody was [laughing]. But when we shot the scene, Daniel, just before he was toasting his mum, burst out crying. I even felt emotional there and then, and it just felt that that was the moment of the scene.”
These shooting circumstances seem to all add to Kill’s overall vibe: it's a lean, bare-bones thriller packed with incisive character drama. “We have such a contained cast, we had the wilderness as well – I think they complement each other,” Griffiths says. “We could really focus on performance and, although it is an action thriller, it's very much a character-driven piece. We wanted to explore deeper themes really, while still having this thriller narrative.” It’s not just a bracing watch, but marks an unignorable turn for Scottish genre cinema.
Filmography (shorts): Take the Shot (2017), Peter's Room (2013), Wiped (2010)