King Kelly (**½)

In many ways a found footage flick, ‘King Kelly’ is notable not just for the first person approach, but for the fact that it was shot exclusively on iPhones. If that sounds like it could be torture, it actually isn’t, and in fact looks far better than you’d expect. Featuring a memorable turn by emerging actress Louisa Krause in the title role, this black comedy is a satirical look at the self possessed teenagers of the current generation. Co-writer/director Andrew Neel has made a bold decision in never trying to make Kelly likable, something recent films like ‘Project X’ have tried, and failed, to do with their protagonists. Neel and Krause never try and get you to root for her, but you can’t take your eyes off of her. If the story itself isn’t always amazingly fulfilling, the concept is and Krause gives a performance that I think will be looked back on in a couple of years with admiration when she’s a bigger star. I liked more of this flick than I didn’t, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If this sort of dark satire is your cup of tea, then add a half star to my review and consider it a recommendation. It opens this Friday and hopefully kickstarts the career of a talented actress.

For teenager Kelly (Krause), becoming a star on the internet is the only thing that matters. She hates her family, uses her friends, and seems to live for the adoration her webcam shows bring from the men who tip her when she strips and masturbates on camera. She also is obsessed with always filming her life on her iPhone, convinced that anything she does is worth watching for others. She’s constantly performing and mugging for the camera, seemingly oblivious to how annoying she is to almost everyone else on the planet. The only person who seems to encourage her is her “best friend” Jordan (Libby Woodbridge), though someone on the internet named Poo Bare is rather protective of her as well. There’s a narrative change in the second half of the film when Kelly’s car is stolen and apparently is filled with drugs she was only half-knowingly transporting, which leads to her and Jordan heading to Staten Island to retrieve them. When they get into trouble, Kelly decides the thing to do is call Poo Bare (Roderick Hill), who’s a cop and will do anything for her. These people only fuel Kelly’s narcissism and when things go to a real dark place, it’s as if no one can stop her. At times it feels like two different movies, but things wrap up very nicely in the end.

The absolute best part of the film is the performance given by Louisa Krause. She dives into this role with no fear, leading to a captivating performance. Krause slowly morphs Kelly from a simple brat needing to be put into her place to a borderline sociopathic and deluded teen well deserving of prison. The fact that nothing seems able to change her is sold brilliantly by Krause. I can’t wait to see more of her. The other performances in the film are fine, notably Libby Woodbridge and Roderick Hill, as they’re the only people with substantial screen time, but they mostly just bounce off of her and evolve/devolve based on her actions. Supporting roles are played by the likes of Will Brill and Jonny Orsini as well, but this is all about Louisa Krause, plain and simple.

Andrew Neel could probably have made a much easier to digest film from the same material that he developed with co-writer Mike Roberts, but it’s to his credit that he stayed true to himself. The first person aspect is hard to make seem organic, but he certainly succeeds. I really liked his direction, actually, especially since he was able to get that performance out of Krause. Some of his little details are fascinating too, such as how he frames the website Kelly performs on in the opening scene. My only real issue with the film is that Neel and Roberts struggle to connect the two halves of the film in a truly satisfying way. There’s not quite enough going on in the first half and a bit too much in the second half. The first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes are good, but it’s the middle 40 where things are a little rough. It’s not a huge complaint, but it kept me from being too big a fan of the work.

Overall, when ‘King Kelly’ opens this weekend, it should find itself a niche audience that is receptive to this type of film. Some will absolutely hate the movie, but some will be stunned by what they see. I’m a much more reserved version of the latter here, but I know it’s a tough sell for many. I think it’s worth seeing if you think you can deal with an unlikable protagonist. Lousia Krause is terrific and almost sells it all on her own. If you’re intrigued, give it a shot…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!