H. Davenport Adams once wrote, “great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.” Though that was directed at Alfred Tennyson, it can be applied in most forms of art, especially film. Todd Bartoo attempts to pretext his debut feature of a wayward organized crime enforcer, exacting revenge on those who betrayed her, with exactly this notion. The result: it’s one thing to repurpose a worn concept and build upon it, it’s another to just blatantly rip off The Crow. Killing Joan is a cascade of cliches, gagable one-liners, and inept fight choreography all delivered with enough ham to feed a small nation.
Joan Butler (Jamie Bernadette) is bad-tempered, mid-level management for Frank (David Carey Foster), a local crime boss. After a particularly sloppy job, she runs into her ex-boyfriend Anthony (Teo Celigo), a social worker with a heart of gold, who manages to unwittingly convince her to skip out on Frank and start life anew. She is soon deceived by her colleagues, beaten, and left for dead. Somehow Joan survives and receives supernatural powers to transport throughout and manipulate shadows. As she works her way through each of the underlings responsible for her “death”, she slowly begins to realize that Frank is more than meets the eye and that he wields similar preternatural abilities aimed at corrupting Joan down to her very soul.
“…Joan survives and receives supernatural powers to transport throughout and manipulate shadows…”
As much as the filmmakers wanted to mask their shoddy storytelling with flashy camerawork, it doesn’t hide their sole reliance on contrived coincidences to push the plot, the frustratingly inconsistent world rules determining Joan and Frank’s powers, or even the fact we never clearly ascertain any of Frank’s motives. Having said that, Jon Schweigart’s cinematography is indeed creative and makes the most of the strikingly boring settings the characters trudge through on their way to the next meaningless scene-gnawing interaction. Honestly, that is the only positive aspect that I can muster about this cinematic dumpster fire.
Thomas Ouziel’s sound design is inconsistent and mixed at varying levels, slopping together dialogue, diegetic audio, score, and foley into an exhaustive auditory assault. Walter Moise’s editing is hallmarked by lackadaisical segment segues and a stuttering pace, almost mirroring the senseless and shuffled blocking of the actors. However, this all seems endemic of Bartoo’s nearly presentless direction; the film may know roughly where it wants to go, but it certainly doesn’t know how to get there.
“…slopping together dialogue, diegetic audio, score, and foley into an exhaustive auditory assault...”
Half of the confrontations occur in dark industrial district alleyways that all appear to be shot on the same night (though apparently occurring over the span of weeks), and consisting of exposition dumps overacted so severely the actors appear to be chewing on the air around them. All of these elements are rounded out by melee-and-special-powers-fused combat scenes making early episodes of Charmed feel polished and cutting-edge (and I am a fan of that show).
This endurance test cannot even qualify for the “so bad it’s good” category, as even its lackluster elements exuding undiluted badness aren’t easy to enjoy. Where those horrible masterpieces are distinctive for their earnestness, this is impressingly indolent and indifferent. Ultimately, Killing Joan is equivocal to a car pile up stretching to the horizon with few salvagable parts along the way.
Killing Joan (2018) Directed by Todd Bartoo. Written by Todd Bartoo. Starring Jamie Bernadette, David Carey Foster, and Teo Celigo.
★ / ☆☆☆☆☆