It seems odd to say, but for a film that seemingly has a very specific story to tell, from a very specific point of view, 'K-11' struggles during its entire runtime to find anything resembling an actual voice or a personality.
From the mind of first-time co-writer and director Jules Stewart – mother of Kristen Stewart – comes a story told from inside the confines of the K-11 area in the Los Angeles County Jail, a section for inmates who are typically gay or transgendered and deemed a risk to be placed amongst the other inmates in the general population. Given the specificity of the setting and the characters that inhabit such a place, one might think that the director would have a particular vision in terms of the story's tone and direction; if, for no other reason than to be clear about her intentions with a somewhat precarious set of circumstances.
Instead, 'K-11' becomes a nearly incomprehensible mishmash of genres and conventions, ranging from full-on exploitation flick to hardened prison drama. But this isn't 'The Shawshank Redemption,' 'Cool Hand Luke,' or even HBO's 'Oz' – though there are moments where such a comparison becomes almost reasonable – it's far too tone deaf and, at times, unintentionally hilarious to be taken as seriously as any of those entries in the prison-film subgenre. But, conversely, it's never humorous or outlandish enough to be thought of as exploitation, satire or dark comedy.
Playing off that nightmarish quality is also what gives 'K-11' a great deal of leeway in terms of the plot developments (as much as there is such a thing) and the dynamic between the various characters, though primarily, the only one of any major import is the relationship between Saxx and Mousey (Kate del Castillo), the transgendered criminal who ostensibly runs the place. Because things don't immediately make sense and the script does little to ensure they ever do, it's clear that the plot is running primarily off a sort of dream logic in order to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible (and at a mercifully short 88 minutes, 'K-11' gets there without delay).
Intensifying the dream logic of the film is the way in which character motivations seem to change depending on the need of the particular scene. This is common throughout the picture, as most of the inmates are drawn with the broadest of strokes – i.e., they're primarily recognizable by the art adorning their skin, whatever slightly off kilter personality quirk they might be displaying, or, unfortunately, by their race.
On the bright side, however, 'K-11' is rarely dull. In fact, it comes as something of a surprise when the entirety of the film's narrative spans little more than a day and night. Basically, it's long enough for Saxx to get his hair cut twice, convince everyone he's straight and fix all their problems – which consist of dealing with a brutal rapist in their midst named Detroit (Tiny Lister), a drug-addled prison guard with a lusty eye for Mousey (played with scenery-chewing verve by an almost unrecognizable D.B. Sweeney) and everyone's collective need to score more cash and drugs, to keep both of them continually flowing in and out of K-11.
There's not much of a plot, but then again, there's not much in terms of characters to get in one either. It's difficult to see exactly what specific audience Stewart was aiming for in making this film, as the individuals it depicts don't seem to be handled in a manner that would suggest 'K-11' was actually made with them in mind. Most notably (and curiously), the vast majority of transgendered characters are actually played by women (del Castillo and Portia Doubleday, for instance), which seems to be a rather disconcerting statement in how the film actually views that segment of the population. This, in effect, highlights the film's insincerity concerning its subject matter and any discernable voice or intention with the story becomes further muddled amongst the incongruent tone and halfhearted feelings toward the characters and their relation to the actual subject of the film.
In the end, the question becomes: Who is this film for? Unfortunately, the answer isn't likely to be found anywhere in 'K-11' itself, meaning this desultory effort will likely struggle appeal to anyone.
'K-11' comes from Breaking Glass Pictures and is a single disc in a standard keepcase. The film itself will auto play to the top menu, where the viewer can adjust between three audio options; one of which is a feature length commentary with Jules Stewart.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec for 'K-11' actually presents a very nice, fully detailed image that remains consistent throughout and manages to have a fairly nice filmic quality to it – though at the time of this write-up it's uncertain whether or not it was shot digitally.
For the most part, fine detail is the standout feature of the transfer. Facial features on all the actors are very detailed and the image delivers an impressive array of skin tones and textures that really make certain aspects of the film a little more convincing than one might initially expect. For instance, his greasy hair aids D.B. Sweeney's unkempt, drug-addled appearance, which is further augmented by a persistent flop sweat and distressing amount of acne present on his face. Meanwhile, though it comes off as unintentionally voyeuristic, Kate del Castillo's transformation from a recently arrested and bestubbled Mousey, to full make-up and excruciatingly tight fitted clothes also serves to highlight the level of detail on the transfer.
Elsewhere, contrast levels remain fairly high throughout, even during Saxx's flashbacks or during his drug binge where such deliberate tinkering with the image can oftentimes reduce the quality of the image, or make it appear washed out.
Overall, this is a better-than-expected image on a film that probably doesn't require it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a technically impressive aspect of a disc that's not really worth anyone's time. The sound here is robust and strong, delivering clean, crisp dialogue that's easy to understand and comes with the added bonus of highlighting the echo-y confines of a correctional facility.
Thanks to the film's setting, there is plenty of ambient noise for the audio mix to pick up and it actually does a nice job of doing so. The audio manages to convey both the feeling of being in a confined space and the disorder that comes from having so many people locked (dorm style) in said space. Surround acts to immerse the viewer in a cacophony of unintelligible conversations, movements and cackling that does a great job of initiating the Saxx character (along with the viewer) to his brief confines in K-11.
Most of the film is dialogue driven, however, and other than the occasional song or bit of score, there are few elements on display to really push the track beyond presenting the spoken word. There's little LFE to speak of, though the slamming of heavy steel doors does ring out and sound particularly ominous when present.
The sound on 'K-11' manages to convey the aspects of the film that are most important, but it also should be commended for its ability to realistically present a feeling of confinement in a crowded and noisy space.
Despite flying under the radar during its incredibly brief theatrical run, 'K-11' managed to garner some attention simply because of who Jules Stewart's famous and somewhat divisive progeny happens to be. When a director's offspring is more newsworthy than the fact that she's made a film of questionable quality about transgendered inmates, then it's clear that the movie in question is incredibly problematic. Other than witnessing the film's strange, leering sensibilities, there is little here to recommend watching. Still, this is a decent looking disc, with better than average sound, so perhaps it's just another bad movie that found its way onto a technically sound disc. Either way, just skip this one.