The early moments of “King Kelly,” a new found-footage movie shot entirely on the iPhone, announces its intentions and attitudes right off the bat. The first images are of a crowded, low-rent internet chat-room, where we’re confronted with the sight of a half-nude nubile blonde who vacuously pleads for “tips” as she masturbates. We’re trapped, and the audience is going to have to watch her show, watch her pleasure herself for her gain, your satisfaction being entirely secondary. This is King Kelly, and she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s the voice of this generation.
Kelly (Louisa Krause) is actually a young suburban female who earns cash by webcamming with strangers despite still living at home with her accepting, oblivious parents. What goes on behind locked doors concerns them little, which has allowed Kelly the chance to arrange for the creation of her own website, an idea that sounds just as haphazard as her plans for “exclusive” fan content which amounts to little more than half-baked comedy sketches. Friend Jordan (Libby Woodbridge), possibly just as superficially attractive, considers her own worth by how she’s able to help the manic, selfish Kelly in her goals, enabling Kelly to film all of her own exploits as if she is the star of her own movie. And, holy cow, she is!
A series of contrivances occur that place Kelly as responsible for a misplaced cache of drugs, and Kelly opts to spring to action, ordering Jordan to be her driver. What follows goes from teenage and young adult melodrama and hijinks into something far darker, as Kelly enlists the help of chatroom regular PoohBare (Roderick Hill). PoohBare turns out to actually be a mild-mannered state trooper, with a thin frame, a wispy mustache and pale, pasty skin. Unfortunately perfectly cast for the part, as far as physicality, Hill is nonetheless a revelation—at first PoohBare nurses something of a schoolboy crush on the girl while struggling to maintain his professionalism. But soon, he’s convinced to embrace the sociopath possibilities of owning a gun and having no one to answer to, at least for this one night. Hill perfectly plays this transition, as an emotionally-unprepared nerd emboldened by lust.
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Kelly cares little for this follower of hers, ignoring his orders to stop filming, and embracing the rule-breaking that turns his character sideways. As he pursues allegedly-stolen drugs for her, the two have a dark moment in the car, where he takes a deep breath and turns to her (and, of course, her iPhone), demanding that if he take one more step further into illegal behavior, she’s going to have to honor his sexual desires. They have not even kissed at this point, and Hill’s pause before suggesting this conveys a humane desire to prolong giving into his primal urges. It’s an extremely well-played moment, one where Hill recognizes the attitude of someone wrestling with what they desire versus what’s obvious to him as the moral decision. Once it spills from his mouth, it’s almost as if he’s now fully committed to the career-ending behavior of the evening. Kelly’s changed him, and her uncertain affirmation of his request, also coming after a long bit of silence, suggests she’s ill-prepared for the consequences of her selfishness. It’s a discomforting moment, forcing both characters to evaluate just exactly what her sexual currency is supposed to be worth, and it breaks Kelly to make her only compromise in the entire film thus far.
After this moment, events spiral into a vicious cycle, and what started out as somewhat enjoyable suddenly becomes dangerous. One of the many nauseating elements of this scene is Jordan in the back seat, passed out on a variety of drugs, and for the rest of the picture, she keeps slipping in and out of consciousness. This is barely acknowledged, which is to say it’s definitely noticed by the viewer, even as it merely spills out of Kelly’s narrow iPhone frame. Motel stops, beatings, and gunshots factor into what’s still a small, but lethal outcome. Kelly’s secret business had previously just been discovered by her parents, but that likely has no bearing on her live-for-tonight credo, and throughout the narrative, she’s something of a selfish runaway train, with every character kowtowing to her desires. When she says things like, “Who even reads books anymore?” she believes the words imbue her with a sense of authority, one that all the other characters accept at face value. Hell, her nickname isn’t Peasant Kelly.
One of director Andrew Neel’s previous films is the documentary “Darkon,” a fairly straightforward, non-judgmental look at the world of Live Action Role Playing. While that film wasn’t without a point of view, its unflinching portrait of the proudest elements of that activity were refreshing and real. “King Kelly,” meanwhile, features a character who takes several moments to remove her clothing, revealing red-white-and-blue star spangled panties and a bra, so as to commemorate the Fourth of July. It’s never pertinent to the plot, and it never needs to be, that “King Kelly” is entirely set on America’s Independence Day. Point taken, Mr. Neel. [B+]