Hitman 101 (2011) – By Emily Intravia

The web series isn’t necessarily the most natural film medium. Brief running times generally limit the amount of story or character development per episode, usually at the sacrifice of one or the other. Telling a layered, complex narrative in less than ten minutes at a time and expecting your audience to fully invest is no small order, making Scott Staven’s web series Hitman 101 all the more refreshing.
 
Stretched over 12 7-minute (or so) episodes, Hitman 101 follows the mysterious John Smith (an enigmatic and understated Georgie Daburas) as he begins a life of sorts as a hired hand. Along the way, John finds himself caught up in a web of colorful crime bosses, their hotheaded lackeys, frustrated detectives, and potential romance with the fellow professional Eva (smartly played by Laura Atkin). 
 
Although there is a dense amount of story packed into Hitman 101, the majority of the action is filtered through the steely eyes of John, including some video journaling he does to relax. Daburas doesn’t have an easy job in maintaining a stoic warrior’s attitude on the job that alternates with the more thoughtful vlogger who talks to himself, but the actor handles it well, making his man of mystery easy to like and quietly riveting to watch in action.
 
Where the series occasionally lags is when it moves away from John and into its not quite as strong subplots. As John gets deeper into conspiracy territory, we meet the detectives investigating the trail of bodies he leaves behind. Although the dialogue between seasoned captains and foul-mouthed rookies is cleverly written, the delivery and chemistry between the supporting actors just doesn’t match the level of the main storyline. This might be the only real spot where a low budget and time constraints   seems visible.
 
That being said, Hitman 101 is wonderfully paced and balances its action-heavy sequences with complex plotting that never feels overstuffed. The overall project is incredibly ambitious, from its strong original soundtrack to the excellent fight choreography that rivals plenty of hand-to-hand combat you might find in mainstream bigger budget fare. Most impressive is Staven’s script and general storytelling. Over the course of 12 installments, Hitman 101 establishes a clear but complex narrative complete with rewarding final act twists and revelations. Though it might be challenging to follow the whole film if viewed on a weekly basis (as so many web series are designed for), the official website for Hitman 101 includes a viewing option to watch it as one continuous film (as I did for this review). Viewed in full, Hitman 101 unfolds extremely cleanly. Each episode is complete on its own, but flows perfectly well when combined into one.
 
Hitman 101 was produced by Bad Guy Films and filmed in the Vancouver area. Eagle eyed viewers may spot some signs of budget limitations, but the compelling narrative, snappy writing, and strong performances easily make you forget its lack of studio funds. You can tell that everyone in front of and behind the scenes approached the material with intelligence and energy, and as a result, writer/director/editor Staven’s final product is both unique and enjoyable.
 
To watch Hitman 101, as well as deleted scenes and other bonus content, visit http://badguyfilms.com/hitman101.