Directed by Ben Wheatley
Distributed by StudioCanal
Note: The review text below for the film itself is taken from our Frightfest 2011 coverage. If you’ve already seen Kill List and are more interested in the extras and technical details of this release, feel free to skip to the end.
Down Terrace director Ben Wheatley’s descent into terror, Kill List, is the type of film that must be gone into with as little knowledge of the proceedings as possible. With its horror angle hinging on an ultimate twist ending a la The Wicker Man, it also manages to succeed as a competent drama and spontaneously shocking thriller.
Lead Neil Maskell is family man Jay, struggling through a rapidly fracturing marriage to his wife, Shel (Buring,) while also trying to provide a decent upbringing for their young son. With Jay having been out of work for a number of months since returning, emotionally scarred and physically affected, from the military, the family is flat broke so he takes up a job brought to him by best friend Gal (Smiley). Seems that these two also have a history working on the side as contract killers, and to save his home life, Jay has no option but to accept Gal’s latest lucrative offer.
Kill list in hand, the pair set about offing their prey – but things are nowhere near as they seem. Uncovering a child porn ring in the process of taking out one of the designated targets threatens to throw Jay off the rails as he swears, and enacts, brutal retribution on those involved. Strangely, those lined up for execution have only two words to say to Jay once staring down the barrel of his gun: “Thank you.”
Approaching the final target (a well known Member of Parliament), Jay discovers that his actions have been as a pawn within a much more insidious scheme and is unwittingly drawn into a maniacal circle of ritualistic murder and mayhem that may just involve people closer to him than he ever would have imagined.
Marvelously acted across the board (especially Smiley as Gal), Kill List is an impeccably crafted thriller that takes a sharp, and startling, detour into horror territory. Wheatley’s pacing is spot on, and he deftly shifts styles from early social realist drama to threatening mystery through to violent thriller and a final metamorphosis to survival horror. His direction is tight and confident, generating some very proficient scares during the claustrophobic shriek-fest of a climax. Kill List also contains some of the most vicious and brutal violence seen in a film this year. When Jay begins meting justice to those involved in the uncovered child abuse, the results can be very nasty. One particular scene involving an incapacitated man and a claw hammer will stay with you for a very long time.
Where Kill List fails, however, is the script. While the old friend relationship dynamic between Jay and Gal is instantly believable and delivered with precision by the players, Jay’s tendency for violence and intimidating behaviour seems a little too selective. He’s drawn as an extremely volatile individual, handled by Gal like one might handle a glass of nitroglycerin, and yet we’re supposed to believe that in the midst of his many, many destructive rows at home (and undoubtedly further afield), he has never lashed out to strike the worst choice of person, including his wife and child.
Similarly, while the film is steeped in mystery and thus highly engaging, it’s catastrophically disappointing that literally zero answers as to the machinations of Jay’s forced journey are given. Of course, as intelligent audiences we don’t need every single thing explained for us, but when characters are secretly scrawling arcane symbols in hidden corners of Jay’s home and the entire affair reeks of some clandestine predetermination, it’s criminal not to offer even surreptitious clues as to the point behind it all.
Still, Kill List remains a strikingly violent success. As thrilling as it is horrifying, and absorbing as it can be frustrating, it’s dramatic, weighty and gripping stuff. Keep your expectations in check, don’t expect too many answers, and you should find Jay’s journey to hell a suitably impressive one.
StudioCanal bring Kill List into UK homes in fine style with a Blu-ray transfer that’s solid, crisp and clean. It isn’t a particularly textured experience and very rarely demonstrates the visual “pop” of the kind offered by some of the best hi-def material, but it can’t be faulted for what it does bring to the table. On the audio side of things, the DTS HD Master Audio track provided here is similarly clean, with plenty of isolated audio in the mix across a meticulously channelled soundstage, while the bass drones of the film’s soundtrack are likely to have your home shaking at the very foundations.
Moving on to the special features here, we have a slightly disappointing “Making of” which consists mainly of random on-set footage containing only a few glimpses of interest. A selection of short interviews follow, featuring director Ben Wheatley, actors Neil Maskell and Myanna Buring, and producers Claire Jones and Andrew Starke. They’re pretty predictable with the most interesting takes actually garnered from producers Jones and Starke – it’s pretty rare to get the producers’ takes amongst extra materials, and their opinions on the film and getting it made are both insightful and humorous.
The star pieces of the show here, however, are the two independent commentary tracks. Director Wheatley and writer Amy Jump take us through the film first, with Wheatley proving to be just as bad as the rest of us when it comes to picking movies apart. His tongue in cheek approach to his own work makes this track a highly enjoyable and entertaining accompaniment to Kill List. Unfortunately, those out there looking for some answers are likely to be left feeling extremely unfulfilled, as Wheatley himself also appears to have no idea just what exactly is going on. Indeed, the biggest belly laugh found here is likely his summation at the film’s closing – “And that’s what happens… when you’re a bit of a cock.”
Coming out of the first commentary, you’re likely to be thinking that it’s a hard one to follow. Well, principal cast members Maskell, Smiley and Buring are on hand to give it a run for its money with a track that’s consistently engaging and an absolute hoot to listen to. Smiley just can’t keep himself from saying something funny or inappropriate at every turn, and the three of them get on like old friends at a get-together. This one just flows effortlessly, and when they aren’t revealing interesting details behind the making of the film (including details of alternate/deleted scenes that would have been nice to see alongside the current special features,) they’re making fun of themselves, each other or the film itself with the best possible humour. Seriously — this release sports two of the best commentary tracks heard all year and is absolutely essential for fans of the film. Those who aren’t too enamoured with commentary tracks, though, are likely to find the remaining special features distinctly underwhelming.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
Discuss Kill List in the comments section below!
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
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