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Kill List (2011,UK)

03/01/2012

Director: Ben Wheatley             Starring: Neill Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley

Ben Wheatley’s low budget hitman thriller is one of those films that it’s difficult to say very much about without spoiling it. I will endeavour to keep this review spoiler free, however the consequence of that is that it may prove a little superficial, so please bear with me. I am a firm believer in not ruining films for people.

Jay (Maskell) hasn’t worked in months since his last job went awry and the lack of money coming in is causing tensions between him and his wife Shell (Buring). When his friend and partner Gal (Smiley – yes, Tyres out of Spaced) turns up offering a big pay day for a straightforward job, Jay sucks up his fear of failure and takes the chance. However, what should be a straightforward job rapidly turns into something altogether more sinister with dire consequences for the pair of hitmen.

It’s a film of two halves really. The initial scenes are essentially a domestic drama as tensions build within Jay’s family at his inability to bring enough money into the house to support their lifestyle. Maskell and Buring excell in these scenes, exploding into spontaneous arguments over miniscule provocations in performances that were largely improvised by the actors. The bitter verbal sniping between them is the most realistic portrayal of domestic unhappiness I’ve seen in this kind of film. The raw, verbal violence is as brutal as anything that follows when the killers are going about their business and it makes for some truly excellent viewing.

Once Gal and Jay go to work the film shifts into a second, more physical phase as they case and dispatch their various victims. What starts out as purely professional with a very neat and tidy if utterly ruthless assassination takes a turn for the personal when they discover their next target is up to some very unsavoury filmmaking. This tips Jay over the edge and he quickly throws professionalism to the four winds in favour of outright brutality. This is not a film for the squeamish. The effects department easily keep pace with the savagery of Jay (there’s a particularly nasty scene with a hammer) and the bold realism of the violence is quite affecting. Seriously, if you don’t like movie violence and gore you will most definitely struggle with this film. It’s hardly blood drenched but when the violence occurs it’s viciously realistic.

It’s during the third hit where the film takes a turn that has led to a lot this film being described variously as “nerve shredding” and “disturbing”, when the real motivation of their mysterious client starts to make itself felt. I need to tiptoe round the spoilers here. This is a bit of a double edged sword for me. I quite like the notion that is explored by Wheatley here but I felt quite short changed in its execution. It’s a little bit too vague, too open ended to be truly satisfying. I’m all for filmmakers who don’t feel the need to intricately explain every last element of the story in painfully explicit exposition but at the same time there are some important questions left completely unanswered which I felt were necessary to support the films conclusion. It certainly wasn’t as disturbing as some reviewers would have you believe as I’m sure any genre fan would attest. It is bold and reasonably original though, something for which Wheatley should be applauded. I just wish he’d gone into a little bit more detail which I think might have saved it from feeling so vague.

Overall though it was an enjoyable experience, made all the more so by the fantastic performances from all involved. There was a little bit of me wishing Wheatley had opted for a more conventional story arc as the quality of the film is such that you really wouldn’t mind a more traditional ending at all but then it’s nice to see someone trying to inject a little bit of originality into a tried and tested genre. It probably owes a debt to the likes of Shane Meadow’s fantastic Dead Man’s Shoes but this is no bad thing. It’s certainly worth a look to all but the most squeamish of film fans.

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