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kilowog [Celluloid 12.26.11] horror thriller

Year: 2011
Directors: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: kilowog
Rating: 7 out of 10

When you walk into a dark theater and the film you’re about to see is entitled KILL LIST, it’s safe to say that you are not going to be leaving the theater feeling all sorts of warm and fuzzy when the credits roll, unless of course you have something that you would like to discuss with a psychiatrist. Despite the devilishly foreboding title, Ben Wheatley’s sophomore effort, KILL LIST, following 2009’s DOWN TERRACE, is an equally engaging as well as disturbing film that treats you to the life of a working class hitman; though at times the film leaves you trying to add it all up in your head to see if in fact the film is the sum of its parts.

Following a botched job, Jay (Neil Maskell) is now an out of work contract killer lazying about his suburban home that he shares with his beautifully Swedish wife, Shel (played by the coldly perfect, MyAnna Buring). Literally fighting the doldrums of unemployment, Jay and Shel’s lives are finally interrupted by his longtime pal and partner, Gal (Michael Smiley) and his latest and albeit mildly sociologically perplexing conquest, Fiona (the demure and mysterious, Emma Fryer). The couple shows up for an evening together at Jay’s home, and following a few drinks Gal greatly encourages Jay to take just the one more job. Three hits. Good money; help get him and the family back on track. Jay agrees and takes off with the blessing of his wife, who is keenly aware of his deadly occupation.

Just who the hits are or who their employer is, is never revealed to either Gal who helped set it all up or to Jay, but one thing is certain, the latter will literally have to sign his contract in blood. Having seen it all, Jay doesn’t think much of it, and when the first hit goes off without a hitch, he and Gal feel that they are their way to easy street with a nice big payoff at the end of the rainbow. However as they track down the remaining two targets, things begin to take a turn with the discovery of certain evidence that would make Nic Cage in 8MM run up a tree. Caught in a rapidly spiraling situation from which they cannot extricate themselves, Jay and Gal continue to question just what they’ve gotten themselves into; a world with an advancing creepy dread and a level of mysteriousness that would well honor Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY’S BABY.

As talented as Wheatley is, the intensity of the film at times tries to overtake you before you’re ready. Peppered by the occasional slo-motion shot, and filled with a certain amount of monotony such as Jay’s grocery purchases, one expects a slow rise in the film’s tension, however composer, Jim Williams’ decides to shoves a dark Bernard Hermann score down our throat even as Jay and Gal most casually walk through a hallway to check into their hotel room. Foreboding much?
Visually the film’s somewhat verite style lends an added dose of appreciation for the grittiness of the story, and later delivers a chase scene that burrows through a set of dimly lit underground tunnels leaving you desperate for a headlamp, but in that good way. As a director, Wheatley recognizes that Jay and Gal are working class (their A-class performances reaffirm this), and he makes a point to never glamorize them or what they do with the camera. Rest assure, this is not a John Woo film. Inasmuch, as the filmmaker makes a point to make you feel the lives of his characters with the lens, it’s what’s just out of frame that resonates the most; wanting to know just what happened on Jay’s botched hit in Kiev, just what horrible evidence the partners found, and why Fiona means so much to Gal, but in that fun, bad way. As Wheatley keeps hiding what’s most important, he continually keeps you guessing, until he’s ready to make his big reveal.

However again the question raised, is KILL LIST the sum of its parts? Great acting, solid direction, but is the big reveal, only one of many to be parsed out in the latter half of the film, worthy of the journey? There are many questions that are not answered in Wheatley’s film, and you may end up getting quizzed by your fellow moviegoer for clues as to what just happened. So is it the sum of its parts? Err on the side of yes, and know that you’ll have to enjoy two-thirds of a taught, intelligent thriller to find out.

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soma (11 years ago) Reply

I was really looking forward to this film. I read your review and thought WHAAAT no way. I managed to see it last night. And was left with a 7/10 feeling. I think he could have just given us just a little bit more.


Christopher (10 years ago) Reply

I would rather eat a big pile of shit from every ctraeure in the world than see any movie that Bieber has anything to do with. That's why I'm not seeing this movie, Bieber's gay documentary, or the Back to the Future remake.

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