Kill List (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Distributed by IFC Films
Ah, geez, I don’t really know where to begin here.
See, the thing is – this reviewer can tell you whether or not he liked this film (liked it quite a lot in fact). He can even describe the first two thirds at length. But what he cannot do is explain the final third. Oh, no. Not without ruining the film’s handful of genuine surprises.
Unfortunately, it’s also this section that makes Kill List a Dread-worthy horror flick. Without the final thirty minutes or so, one might be tempted to think that Kill List is a mumblecore-like, relationship-driven crime film. But oh, it becomes something much more than that. Something far worse and far more terrifying.
Ah, hell, I’ll give it a go. Bear with me.
Kill List opens with Jay and Shel (a fantastic Maskell and Buring), a couple dealing with their crumbling marriage. Money problems seem to be the major issue between them, especially as Jay hasn’t worked in the better part of a year (his choice, as it happens). The two organize a dinner party in between bouts of shouting at one another (generally with their poor son listening in). Before long, their mutual friend Gal (Smiley, just awesome) arrives with his beautiful new girlfriend Fiona (Fryer, who effortlessly shifts between likable and creepy throughout the duration of the film), and the group manages to eat, drink, and have a bit of fun amongst Jay and Shel’s fighting.
Soon we learn that Gal has an ulterior motive for attending the party: He has work lined up for both himself and Jay, his old war buddy and business partner. Between Gal’s good-natured chiding and Shel’s constant badgering, Jay decides to remount the horse and get back to work. Both Jay and Gal attend a meeting with their potential client, at which point the audience discovers that our two heroes are, in fact, killers for hire.
The two hitmen accept the job, which entails murdering three men on a given list (a…kill list, if you will). In the course of executing their targets, Jay and Gal discover the rather horrific occupation of one of their marks, which sends the hotheaded Jay into a fury and gives him a new purpose: He will execute not only the men on their list but also anyone involved in the activities they’ve just discovered. This puts them at odds with their dangerous employers, endangering both the men and their loved ones, and leads them to a conclusion that this writer found staggering. And truly horrifying.
And that’s all I’m saying about the plot. You’re just going to have to trust me, dear reader, when I say that Kill List is an absolutely, positively, don’t-argue-with-me-dammit horror film, full of distressing imagery and plot twists that will leave you more than a little a'shiver. Whether you’re willing to sit through one part domestic drama and one part crime film to get to the horror is entirely up to you, but I assure you that this writer found the entire film to be masterful, not merely the parts that happened to frighten me.
The actors, all of them, are just great. I confess that I’m not really familiar with any of the cast (with the exception of Buring, who was also great in Neil Marshall’s The Descent), but I’m certainly going to keep an eye out for their work from here on. Maskell makes a great leading man, playing a violent bastard who’s just likable enough for the audience to stay on his side. Smiley steals every scene he’s in as the jovial Irish assassin, while the gorgeous Buring convincingly plays a long-suffering spouse trying to hold her marriage together, even if that means doing some rather questionable things (*spoiler alert*, but she’s quite aware of her husband’s profession).
The movie is beautifully shot, even if the digital cinematography occasionally mars the film’s wonderful compositions. The music perfectly complements each section of the film (drama, crime, horror!), while director Wheatley does a fantastic job of keeping the pace swift in this rather talky film.
And then... then there’s the final act. Seriously, I’m not going to give anything away, except to say that it is utterly nightmarish. While there are bursts of the ol’ ultra-violence throughout the film (Oh Dae-Su, if you’re reading – your take on “Hammer Time” has been topped, sir), the truly jaw-dropping bits come at the very end. It’s an ice-water-in-the-veins finale, and it left this reviewer shuddering by the time the credits rolled (to be fair here, I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to…this type of villain).
IFC Films has given Kill List a pretty nice presentation on disc (as part of the IFC Midnight genre line). The image is mostly sharp, but the colors are occasionally unstable and there is a bit of image wobble during some scenes that feature gunfire (both likely due more to the digital cinematography than the disc mastering). The bonus features section is nice, if ultimately a bit of a mixed bag. There are two audio commentaries (one with the film’s writer and director, the other with the film’s three lead actors), a nice set of interviews with the director and cast, a brief making-of, a featurette, and a (somewhat too spoilery) trailer.
While the commentaries and interviews are nice, the making-of and featurette are rather redundant. The making-of is essentially just a collection of raw behind-the-scenes footage, while the featurette is a trailer-length cut down of the interviews already presented elsewhere on the disc. And, it’s worth noting again, you should probably skip the trailer until after you’ve viewed the film.
I was genuinely surprised at how much I loved this film. With its exemplary cast, strong direction, and intriguing storyline, Kill List has rocketed up pretty far on my own personal Top Ten of 2012. While some may be put off by the lack of horror for its first two thirds, here’s hoping those of you willing to stick around will find the film to be as fascinating, and utterly terrifying, as I did.
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5