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
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