Monday, 5 September 2011

Kill List

Bucking the trend for generic horror remakes or cringe-worthy 3D, Kill List presents audiences with something entirely new. Whilst clearly owing a large debt to The Wicker Man, it takes the horror genre in an uncomfortable new direction, drawing the audience into a kitchen sink drama with lashings of menace and scenes of almost unbearable tension.

Opening with an extremely long domestic scene, director Ben Wheatley begins to pile on the fraught sense of claustrophobia which characterises the movie from the very outset. Jay (Neil Maskell), an ex-squaddie on civvy street, is a tightly wound individual – constantly on the brink of volcanic eruptions. As he and wife Shell (Myanna Buring) host a dinner party for friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new partner, Fiona (Emma Fryer) grievances simmer just beneath the surface. It’s almost too real and clearly chock full of improvised dialogue. The camera lingers slightly too long on faces and reactions, the food is clearly being digested. When one barbed insult too many falls from Shell’s lips, Jay flips violently.

Becalmed by the laconic Gal, the two discuss returning to work – a priority for Jay whose lavish lifestyle has seen he, Shell and their son Sam fall into financial trouble. It quickly becomes clear the two mates are hitmen – and they are soon back in the saddle, accepting a ‘kill list’ from their mysterious employer. There will be three jobs before their employment finishes.

It seems like pretty standard stuff – two hitmen reuniting for one last job. It’s much more than that, however. From the extended opening it’s clear that Wheatley’s intention is not to create a paint-by-numbers thriller. Instead he devotes time to drawing the audience into Jay and Gal’s world. The handheld camera constantly keeps the viewer on top of the action and the occasional eruptions of violence keep them on the edge of their seat.

The acting is uniformly excellent. Maskell and Smiley quickly create an entirely believable friendship founded on shared experiences, punctuated with violence and love in equal measures. And there’s just enough evidence to suggest Gal has more than a platonic interest in Jay’s wife. It’s a multi-faceted relationship the likes of which is seldom seen in the genre – or any other.

As the film evolves it maintains the personal interest, exploring (but never judging) the two protagonists as they embark on their paid killing spree. At times their morals are questioned – as are the viewers’ – and Wheatley makes no attempt to provide answers as Jay goes spectacularly ‘off list’. The violence is realistic, brutal and visceral – but occasionally the motives behind it are more ambiguous.

The pace quickens as the film nears its denouement, moving in mysterious and creepy new directions until a thrilling and unsettling climax. But it’s the style of the piece which marks Kill List out: creepy, claustrophobic and unapologetic. Wheatley’s even brave enough to leave some questions defiantly unanswered. Thrilling stuff from a real British talent.

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