Absurdist horror can be a tricky thing to pull off. Add to it a microbudget and 10 years of post production, reshoots, and editing and coming out with a coherent film is a feat in itself. Coming out with a film as good as ‘Kick Me’ is a triumph. Director Gary Huggins and his co-writer Betsy Gran have taken a weirdo story about a very specific place and created a surreal, nightmarish, hero’s journey that feels just outside the bounds of things that could actually happen to a person. The story, chaotic as it is, feels completely cohesive and the overall tone remains steady. The characters, while completely over the top, feel real in some oddball world not to far from our own.
‘Kick Me’ follows high school guidance counselor Santiago (Santiago Vasquez) who goes above and beyond his job duties to help a student, Luther (Ramone Armstrong), after school hours when he really needs to be at his daughter’s recital. Santiago teaches at a school in Kansas City, Missouri and Luther lives in Kansas City, Kansas…a city just across the river with a stigma. This is where I have to jump in with a full disclosure: I live in Kansas City, Kansas and I can tell you the stigma is real! When I first moved to the area about a dozen years ago I had friends in Kansas City, Missouri who truly refused to come visit for fear of the dangers they grew up hearing about. While I have never experienced a night quite as off the rails as Santiago goes through, KCK is definitely a place unlike any other, and Huggins captures both the reality and every visitor’s worst fear of what could happen just across state lines. Huggins’ KCK lives somewhere between gritty 70s New York and a Midwest fever dream. We’ve all seen plenty of movies about New York City and Los Angeles, so anytime we can get a perspective of a new place is refreshing. Bias aside, even if you aren’t familiar at all with Kansas City, Kansas you probably know a city or neighborhood near you that you prefer not to go because there is just the vibe that shit gets too real there. This is the absolute worst case scenario of that place and it’s here to justify your fears!
What I enjoyed most about ‘Kick Me’ is that no matter how outlandish the story gets–and man, it’s a wild one–it stays, somehow not only believable but also oddly relatable. Although most of us have not found ourselves on a night where a visit to a karate dojo turns into a caper involving accidental murder, swingers in a motorhome, borrowing a t-shirt to use as pants from a dude fermenting drugs in a tree, all while on the run from a white trash drug lord and dodging a pack of 3 legged dogs, but we’ve at least found ourselves in a situation that quickly got way out of hand. Every wrong choice Santiago makes as he tries to get home and come through for his daughter makes a sort of chaotic sense in the moment. The characters and the story are genuine, but cranked up to surreal levels. This eccentric, and often pretty disgusting, adventure won’t be for everyone. As we say about KCK itself, it’s not for amateurs, but if you’re open to the bizarre and fantastic you’ll have a great time with this film. ‘Kick Me‘ screened at Panic Fest on April 19th 2023.