5-Word 365 #003 – Kill List

In mid-December I got drunk and thought it would be a good idea to watch a new movie and review it, every day of 2012. These might not be as in-depth of some of my other posts, but if I make it three weeks it’ll be a damn miracle.

Kill List

Horrible man wins a hat

Oh man. I’d heard good things about this movie going back to when it was screened at FrightFest but holy shitsticks, Batman. I’m really struggling for words here. This is 91 minutes of unremitting doom, building to a devastating climax

Alright, I’ll just start at the beginning. Each act of the film has a different flavour. Act one is the awkward family drama, almost of Mike Leigh proportions. Jay and Shel are having Jay’s friend Gal and his new girlfriend over for dinner. The set-up is played out slowly but without getting dull. “These are real people”, is what the flick is saying; they have money troubles; they fight; they pretend not to fight when their son is in the room; Jay is crap at getting the shopping – director Ben Wheatley and his co-writer Amy Jump are gifted when it comes to creating this dynamic between the couple (although the end credits also state that the cast developed some of their own dialogue). Anyway, during the dinner party, Gal mentions to Jay that he has a job lined up for them and it is here where the first shift happens: Jay and Gal are hitmen. This will come as no surprise if you’ve seen the title, but the reveal within the movie is handled so matter-of-factly and after so much scene-setting that you almost forget it’s coming. So the job (act two) starts off well enough, but rapidly takes a turn to the awkward. Followed by a turn to the “what the fuck…?” (yep, that’ll be act three).

A quick word about brutality. The violence in this film is sudden and, yes, brutal. If you are a big softie when it comes to lump hammers and what they can do to a human body, you may want to skip this flick. Everyone else: lump hammers are fun!

Martin Pavey, who was the sound designer on Kill List, has crafted something truly unsettling. Do you know that low-pitched throbbing sound you hear after you’ve hurt yourself? That is what this film sounds like. It builds and falls away, but it seems to always be there once the shit starts hitting the fan. It’s an astonishing piece of work that gets you right inside Jay’s head even without a word of dialogue. The editing is very effective mood-builder as well. Full of jump-cuts and chopped up scenes, it feels almost dreamlike.

This is the kind of film you want to debate. There are no easy answers, no pat exposition from the baddies. You can’t even be sure how much of this is even real. That ambiguity is possibly the film’s greatest strength. Too often, filmmakers feel they have to explain every damn thing. Only in these kind of low-budget, almost experimental features do you see audiences being credited with the ability to make their own minds up about what they are seeing.

In my Top 11 of ’11 post, I included Kill List as a flick that I thought might have changed the look of my countdown, had I seen the film last year. I can tell you now, it definitely would have done so.

Kill List is out on DVD now, and the package is pretty damn good as well. The two feature commentaries (the first with Wheatley and Jump, the second with the three great leads: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley) are both entertaining. There are also three interview clips, a short (but suitably atmospheric) making of, and the obligatory trailer.

By the way, my five word review has been shamelessly stolen from the writer/director commentary.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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