Tuesday, 13 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: Kill List



It's not often I'm speechless at the end of a film - and it wasn't as if I was clammed up with emotion or wonder, either. I was genuinely befuddled as to what I was thinking. So quickly does the pace, tone and genre of Kill List switch in the last 15-20 minutes that it's either an act of utter genius by director-writer Ben Wheatley, or it's a bold jerk that is too left-field to be considered clever filmmaking. None the less, Kill List is one of the best British films I have seen for many a year.

As I may have mentioned in my Movie Con write up I wasn't bothered about watching this film at all until we had the Q&A with Wheatley et al, plus three clips and a trailer from the film itself. "British hit-man film" doesn't fire up my juices whatsoever, but when you start getting fervent claims such as "THE  MOST GRIPPING BRITISH THRILLER IN YEARS", and, "WILL DISTURB YOU FOR DAYS AFTER" plus similarities with David Lynch, then I start getting interested.

Ex-soldier and semi retired hit-man Jay (Neil Maskell) lives with his wife (Myanna Buring) and son in a comfortable wealthy existence, but he is obviously bored - possibly borderline depressed - with his life, and jabs at his idleness and put-downs by his wife fuel his resentment. Then his friend and former partner Gal (Michael Smiley) offers him a way back into working, and feeling valuable, with a seemingly straightforward job in return for some big cash. Jay accepts, but his pot-boiled temperament and complications of the job soon turns the situation into an unsettling and violent mess.

The performances are brilliant across the board - Myanna Buring the stand out as the wife who manages to play it both strong and vulnerable. However the first thought that struck me was how Neil Maskell doesn't look like your quintessential unrelenting hit-man. He looks like a humdrum 40 year old bloke who should be down the pub supporting his mid league football team, downing pints to forget about his job as an insurance broker. And despite his shocking and inhumane bouts of violence he inflicts throughout the film on his victims, I still can't shake that feeling. It's when he's bubbling like a volcano as a dinner party threatens to demean him or a Christian evangelical with a guitar in a hotel restaurant gets on his last nerve that he truly convinces as this man who, for everything he's been through, cannot just succumb to conventional family life. His partner, Gal, does have the roughed up look you would generalise to have, but he is so much softer than Jay, comforting his friend's wife and also his son in a touching scene where he explains how "mummy and daddy are best friends and that's why they fall out so much." He's the rational and brains of the duo, cleaning up the messes made by Jay until even he can no longer stand it.

I love how these kinds of film are shot as well - bleak countryside, little music, moody monotones... it reminded me a lot of Skeletons but obviously more hard-hitting than that.

The first hour of the film is terrific - Wheatley expertly playing put the simmering tension and failings of a strained marriage and the curdling emotions of Jay. When the "job" begins it's as glib as it is terrifying, and the scene where they kill the librarian is plain unwatchable. Be warned: if you don't look away, the camera certainly won't; the horror as Jay sets about him with an axe makes you want to leave the room let alone crawl under your chair and wait for it to be over. The film intrigues with small incidents here and there, mainly centring on the intentions of Gal's new girlfriend Fiona and who she really is. And why do Jay's victims keep saying thank you, and how pleased they were to have met him, just before he ends their lives?

The pay-off is as eye-widening as it is throw your hands in the air baffling. You literally want to turn to your friends mid-scene to see if they're registering the same look of incredulity on their faces as you're sporting. Coming out of the film there's a million and one questions on your tongue that's so heavy in your mouth that you won't actually be able to ask any of them. Was it all real? Did he know? Why did he do it? What does it all mean? Is there really a demented cult haunting the sewers around South Yorkshire? Er, we'll leave that to the twisted imagination of Mr Wheatley.

Such was the impact Kill List gave me - which flies by at a electric pace - that I urge anyone to go and see it, mainly so we can chew over the questions still forming in my head. Any film which can do that deserves a lot of praise, and Wheatley has throttled an excellent performance out of his unknown British cast and has such a deviously good eye and brain for cinema. Watch out for the BAFTAS in February.

But a week after seeing this - and it's irrelevant whether I lost my laptop or not as it still would have taken me days to review! - I'm no closer to having everything click into place to see the true masterpiece of the whole film. And for that reason (I'm out) I can't give it top cheeses, but as Kill List baffled me so completely I'll thrown in an extra tiny chunk


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