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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.27%
Worth A Look31.82%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap31.82%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Kill List
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by MP Bartley

"If someone tells you what it is - kill 'em dead."
5 stars

Once Kill List breaks out of the festival circuit, there will be plenty of reviews about it. Avoid them all. Don't read any details about it. Because this thriller-cum-horror depends on knowing as little about it as possible. This review will be entirely spoiler-free.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is an ex-soldier currently living a domestic, middle-class life with his blonde trophy wife, Shel (Myanna Burning) and their young son. Financial times are tough however, and after a dinner party with an old army friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), Jay is tempted back into a sideline of work that he thought he had abandoned - that of a hitman.

That's really all you need to to know, plot-wise, and all you should know for maximum impact. Why? Well, it's not because this is a The Usual Suspects type-film where the rug is pulled out from under your feet in the last five minutes, causing you to reevaluate every little plot detail that's been thrown your way. No, it's because it's a film that relies on sly little tugs and pulls in the narrative and to suggest what they might be, would be to ruin much of its shock and brutal kick. It's instead more appropriate to suggest what other films have tonally affected Wheatley's film. With its domestic father trying to move on from a blood-soaked past there's more than a hint of A History of Violence to it, its juxtaposition of domestic mundanity against horrific violence is a dash of Haneke's Funny Games, and most unusually, Wheatley is clearly a fan of Kubrick's The Shining - long, slow takes to build up unease and the palpable sense of impending doom is eerily reminiscent of his masterpiece, as is the appropriation of one particular stylistic trick from that film.

Is it a spoiler that I've labelled the film as a thriller-cum-horror? Not really, it's clear from the off that this is a film that is going to keep your nerves skittering on edge from the first minute to list. There's a steadily growing sense of unease throughout with the rumbling industrial soundtrack at ill odds with the bright, sunny suburban setting, and it's pretty clear from the opening 20 minutes that this is going to be a dark and disturbing journey. The dinner party explodes into a raging domestic argument, one of the guests does something rather casually sinister and the off-hand manner in which we learn what Jay and Gal's previous job was and hints of a job gone bad clue us into the idea that this is a journey into some very dark recesses.

In fact, it's a bit of a cheat to call it a thriller. Unlike most hitman films, there is no thrill to the chase or the kill. Some of the victims are seemingly innocent, some are depraved - but even then, there's no vicarious, Death Wish-esque thrill to seeing bad people wipe even badder people out. No, this is where the horror really lies; seeing the blood and hearing the screaming that is associated with cold blooded torture and murder - and this film includes one of the most horrendously savage killings I've seen in an age. From The Human Centipede to the innumerable Saw films, plenty of directors of late have tried to make the connection between horror and the destruction of the soul, and lashings of gore and bloody, seething violence, but Wheatley expertly succeeds where they have so abjectly failed. There are images and sounds here that will linger long into nights of restless sleep.

Wheatley's actors get what he wants from the film as well. Maskell and Smiley are unlikely looking hitman, schlubby and gone to seed, instead of menacing and lean - but that's probably what makes them so good at their job. Both are excellent, suggesting the camaraderie born in blood between them, but also the sense that the things they've seen and done are constantly at the doors of their souls and minds. Myanna Burning has a role that would be easily overlooked, but it really shouldn't, as she has perhaps the most difficult and subtle job of all, as a perky, good-looking suburban mum who is quite content with the knowledge of what her husband does to subsidise her lifestyle. In a film that is full of evil and morally tainted people, she's perhaps the most chillingly tainted of them all - because she's the only one who doesn't seem to care.

But I think that's all you should know, really. There are no spoilers there, nothing you couldn't surmise from the back of the DVD box or a brief magazine synopsis. But what you really need to know is that Wheatley has created nothing short of a modern horror masterpiece, a slowly unwinding and spiralling descent into fear and hysteria, horrifying in its unblinking snake-like gaze into the evil that men do. Particularly one scene where - oh, no, I really can't say. You'll have to discover its dark secrets for yourself.

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originally posted: 01/26/12 06:05:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/14/15 Langano Keeps you on edge throughout with a clever payoff. 3 stars
2/21/15 James Had potential but flopped horribly. What the hell was that? 2 stars
6/11/13 jj absolute trash, tried to shock me but failed 1 stars
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  DVD: 14-Aug-2012


  DVD: 14-Aug-2012

Directed by
  Ben Wheatley

Written by
  Ben Wheatley
  Amy Jump

  Neil Maskell
  Michael Smiley
  MyAnna Buring

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