Jay (Neil Maskell) has a tumultuous relationship with his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), mainly due to the fact that he hasnít worked in 8 months and theyíre skint. He claims he has a bad back; it soon becomes apparent that his problems are more psychological, stemming from an incident that happened while he was a soldier fighting in Kiev.
Living in suburbia with their quiet son Sam (Harry Simpson), life for the couple is peppered with rows Ė but their love for one another is also evident. Shel worries about the future and keeping their attractive family home; the main concern for Jay is that his beloved Jacuzzi is broken and he canít afford to fix it.
One evening, Jayís old army pal Gal (Michael Smiley) comes round for dinner with his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). Following on from a cringe-inducing dinner scene that ends with a disastrous attempt at pulling a tablecloth from beneath crockery, Gal reveals that he and Shel have found some work for him and Jay.
Jayís initially reluctant to take the job, but is all too aware that his family needs the cash. And the job, using their former professionís skills to bump off a list of people for a mysterious businessman (Struan Rodger), promises to pay handsomely.
The next morning, Jay calls on Gal and agrees to do the job. Later waving farewell to Shel and Sam, Jay drives off with Gal for a few days to work their way through their clientís Ďkill listí.
In the meantime, Galís estranged girlfriend Fiona (who dumps him by strapping a "Dear John" letter to his cock while heís sleeping) calls round Jayís home and befriends the slightly bewildered Shel.
I donít want to give any more away: the blinder you go into KILL LIST, the more youíre bound to get from it. Suffice it to say, things get very dark and surreal as the film escalates through set-pieces of black humour, graphic violence and an amazing final act that shifts this from crime thriller to out-and-out horror.
The film is directed by Ben Wheatley, who impressed with his feature debut DOWN TERRACE. That was an excellent film that effectively mixed comedy and kitchen sink drama, before delivering a suckerpunch denouement worthy of its status within the crime genre.
Here, he pulls a similar trick Ė but with even more success, and much more brutality. However, the film isnít perfect.
KILL LIST starts quite slowly. 35 minutes in, and youíd be forgiven for wondering where this domestic drama with lashings of sardonic dialogue is headed. The acting is variable, with leads Maskell and Buring not quite managing to breathe sympathy into their fundamentally dislikeable characters. The music is perhaps used unwisely in earlier scenes, attempting to transform innocuous events such as a family cat eating leftover dinner into something sinister. And it has to be said, some external shots do look very cheap Ė they have the look of an ITV drama about them.
Some of the editing is unnecessarily stylised, and the finale feels just that slight bit rushed.
But these quibbles donít impede the viewerís enjoyment as the film shifts a gear around the 40-minute mark and delivers unrelenting tension from that point in.
In fact, itís testament to KILL LISTís strong points that the film impresses so deeply despite the aforementioned flaws.
For a start, the script Ė co-written by Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, with some improvised dialogue thrown in from the cast Ė is excellent. Taken on face value, itís a realistically voiced suburban drama-cum-thriller with authentic characters and language. However, if you do take it at face value, there are plot holes as wide as a rent-boyís bum crack.
Dig a little deeper and, as is mentioned several times in the discís extras, there are allegories galore to be found. Itís up to you what you take from the film, but anyone who views it will swiftly note that there a big themes being addressed in what is ostensibly a Ďsmallí scenario (honour, the recession, religion, the responsibility of parenting, loyalties etc). Factor in a host of quirky character foibles Ė from Galís insistence on not eating anything red, to Jayís strangely childlike bursts of rage Ė and you have a screenplay rich with repeat-viewing value.
Smiley and Fryer are excellent, as is Rodger in a small but key role. The real star though is Wheatley and his superb pacing, building almost insidiously towards a breathless chase sequence that seems to come from out of nowhere. But, watch the film one or two times more, and the clues have been there from early on...
Those who are left scratching their heads as the end titles roll will have, unfortunately, missed the point. There are no easy answers. So donít worry about those holes in the plot Ė they matter not; just enjoy having the breath knocked out of you.
Gritty, funny and terrifying in equal measures: itís rare to come across a film that, despite the misgivings mentioned earlier, is this satisfying these days. Thatís cause for celebration - especially when itís a home-grown effort, as KILL LIST is.
KILL LIST is, put simply, a brilliant exercise in slowly-building suspense, peppered with moments of quirky humour and explosions of outrageous violence (Jayís use of a household hammer is particularly nauseating), along with a final third that truly can be described as edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Studio Canalís blu-ray presents the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is enhanced for 16x9 TV sets in a most impressive MPEG-4 AVC file, boasting bright natural colours and superb contrast in 1080p HD resolution.
As youíd imagine for a film that was made so recently, the image presentation is stunning. Smooth textures, pin-sharp details and a distinct lack of digital noise make KILL LIST a highly satisfying foray into the world of High Definition.
Likewise, the English audio is provided in two sterling mixes. A 2.0 LPCM stereo mix is good, but the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is the one to go for. Stirring, jolting in all the right moments, clear and consistent: KILL LISTís inventive sound design and witty dialogue both benefit from this strong playback.
Optional English subtitles are easy to read and largely free from typing errors.
The disc opens with a nice animated main menu page which dwells on the filmís darker tone. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
When it comes to extras, undoubtedly the best on offer are two audio commentary tracks.
The first comes from Wheatley and Jump, who strike a fair balance between giggling at each other (Wheatleyís chuckle is infectious) and offering relevant bites of information. As with most married couples, youíll find that the man is often cut short by the woman speaking over him Ė but itís all good, and achieves a healthy tone of light banter mixed with some great insight into the visual clues that crop up throughout the film, and the pitfalls of low budget filmmaking. The most interesting moments for me were when our hosts divulged the things they wanted to include in the film but couldnít for various reasons.
The second commentary comes from Maskell, Buring and Smiley. Again, this offers an engaging mix of giggles, anecdotes and back-slapping. The mutual appreciation for Wheatley is heartening throughout.
We also get a disappointingly short (7 minute) Making Of featurette which offers some good behind-the-scenes footage set to segments of Jim Williamsí moody score.
Next up are a handful of interviews. The most gratifying of these is a 6-minute chat with Wheatley. He reveals the pros and cons of co-writing the screenplay with his wife, gushes over his actors and generally comes across as a nice, laidback and intelligent bloke.
Maskell and Buring discuss how they met Wheatley when working on BBC3 sitcom ĎThe Wrong Doorí, mull over the themes of the film and both agree that itís the best thing either has ever been in. This makes for an agreeable 10 minutesí viewing.
7 minutes of chat with co-producers Andrew Starke and Claire Jones follow. As with the other interviews, they field questions that are presented to us as onscreen text, such as commenting upon the violence in the film and their thoughts on the end product. Naturally, theyíre delighted with it.
KILL LISTís original 1-minute 47-second trailer is also here. It doesnít do justice to the film, but does at least punctuate itself with a barrage of excellent quotes from a diverse range of sources that runs from the likes of Indiewire to Total Film.
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for ANIMAL KINGDOM, OUR DAY WILL COME and the recent adaptation of BRIGHTON ROCK.
Available both on DVD and as a 2-disc blu-ray/DVD combo pack, KILL LIST comes thoroughly recommended. Itís excellent.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Studiocanal|
|see main review|