GUNS AKIMBO. The Madness of Kitsch and Social Media

During a viewing of Guns Akimbo, viewers’ brains will take a leave of absence, and their hearts will beat several times faster.

Dawid Konieczka

9 June 2024

guns akimbo

At first glance, it’s clear that the director of Guns Akimbo, Jason Lei Howden, has spent much of his career working on special effects. To say that his latest directorial work is flashy is an understatement. If you’re not prepared for an extreme amount of kitsch, or if you simply don’t like it, you’ll probably want to leave the theater within the first five minutes. However, if you have a high tolerance for over-the-top excess and bad taste, watching Guns Akimbo should provide you with unrestrained fun.

The main character is Miles (Daniel Radcliffe), the most typical example of a film loser possible. At work, he is bullied by his arrogant boss, and after coming home, Miles spends hours watching TV, staring at his smartphone, and most importantly, trolling on the Internet. Our protagonist is against violence, can’t stand up for himself, and recently broke up with his girlfriend, whom he can’t forget. He lives in a cluttered apartment full of nerdy collectible figurines, with an inhaler as his constant companion. A film cliché to the max, right? Well, hold on, because that’s just the beginning.

guns akimbo

Miles lives in a world where the Skizm group’s broadcasts are wildly popular. This mysterious organization forces all kinds of criminals and psychopaths to fight to the death for the enjoyment of millions of internet viewers. One evening, Miles’ trolling under a Skizm broadcast leads to an unwanted visit from members of the organization, who attach two guns to his hands and give him an ultimatum. He has 24 hours to kill the current champion of the deadly games, Nix (Samara Weaving), or he will die. Soon, the life of Miles’ ex-girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), is also at stake.

Do you feel it? This festival of overused tropes, absurd plot, and general excess? That’s Guns Akimbo. It’s extreme cinematic kitsch in its purest form. It has everything: a straightforward, absurd story, overly exaggerated characters, and aesthetic excess. But this is fully conscious kitsch, clearly referencing the YouTube-Instagram aesthetic, with Howden highlighting the film’s intentional artifice at every turn with cheesy tricks and uninhibited humor. Because in the world of Guns Akimbo, when someone points a gun at you, there’s nothing stopping you from attacking them with a plastic fork. When you’re angry, you constantly spout pretentious clichés. And if someone cuts off your middle finger, you can temporarily stick it back on to flip them off one last time. All, of course, to the rhythm of unexpected covers of well-known songs.

During a viewing of Guns Akimbo, viewers’ brains will take a leave of absence, and their hearts will beat several times faster. Because the director places all these elements of his grand concert of wonderful trash in a breakneck-paced narrative. There’s no moment of rest here — it’s one shootout, one fight, one chase after another. The film’s 90 minutes pass in the blink of an eye, but, surprisingly and admirably, the breakneck action doesn’t overwhelm. Besides Howden, this is thanks primarily to two people. The first is the cinematographer, Stefan Ciupek, who did an excellent job. The camera in Guns Akimbo flows in long takes, jumps attached to a gun, and spins between characters, constantly flipping the perspective up-down and left-right. And those colors! The typical extravagance of kitsch wouldn’t be the same without the brilliant play of neon, contrasting colors worthy of the greatest screen artists.

guns akimbo

The second hero (pun intended) is Daniel Radcliffe. The actor takes on his character with incredible ease, not only fitting the role perfectly but also bringing a sense of unpretentiousness, lightness, and naturalness to the whole film. This makes his Miles a sort of anchor point for the audience, ensuring that the unbridled chaos on screen doesn’t become tiresome. The counterbalance to Radcliffe’s role is Samara Weaving, who undoubtedly had a blast on set, playing a crazed, drug-addicted killer, necessarily caricatured.

However, all this noise, this cinematic frenzy of extravagance, is not for everyone. The entry threshold is relatively high, and if the viewer isn’t prepared, much less fully open to Howden’s madness, they will quickly bounce off Guns Akimbo. Interestingly, despite the clear stylization and excess, the director repeatedly tries to insert serious social commentary. This doesn’t suit kitsch and comes off as extremely artificial, this time in a negative sense. The idea that mass media have long crossed the line of decency and that viewers would eagerly watch the worst atrocities at a family dinner is not groundbreaking in film or culture in general. Similarly, the issue of transferring life to the virtual world while neglecting the real one. While the fantastic audiovisual layer stems from the theme of social media madness, Guns Akimbo has nothing interesting to say on this matter. It shouldn’t pretend to be more than it is.

Despite these thematic missteps, Jason Lei Howden’s film remains a hypnotic, crazy, and highly exaggerated rollercoaster. Absurdity and kitsch are crafted into a dynamic, phenomenally executed whole, and if Guns Akimbo becomes a cult film in some circles, it will be no surprise. The right mindset is essential, however — unpreparedness may result in dizziness and bewilderment.

Dawid Konieczka

Dawid Konieczka

In the cinema, he primarily looks for creativity, ambiguity and authentic emotions, watching practically everything that falls into his hands.

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