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Nearly a year after a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels in an unforeseen direction.
For more about Kill List and the Kill List Blu-ray release, see Kill List Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 18, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley, Struan Rodger
» See full cast & crew
Kill List Blu-ray Review
Horror? Crime thriller? Dark pagan conspiracy?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 18, 2012
Few would contest that the mainstream horror genre has had a bit of an identity crisis over the past decade. First, there was the "let's remake or reboot all the classics from the 1970s and early '80s" phase. Then we had the gross-out torture porn oneupmanship of Saw and Hostel. And now, we're knee-deep in a glut of found-footage films, ever more derivative. There are exceptions, of course—Antichrist, Cabin in the Woods, Splice—but to find smart, adult horror movies with more on the brain than just gore and T&A and cheap scares, you generally have to venture outside the multiplex. And, quite often, outside the U.S.
English writer/director Ben Wheatley got his start making clever YouTube videos with seamless special effects—check out his cheekily named "Cunning Stunt"—but his feature debut, Down Terrace, a hilarious and troubling Mike Leigh-esque crime drama, proved he was born for more than just 10-second viral clips. For his second film, Kill List, he keeps the criminal element in play with a premise about two hit-men on a discrete mission, but then insidiously introduces themes and imagery poached from Britain's "folk horror" cult classics of the '70s. This is a film that baffles and unnerves, building mysteriously to a pagan freak-out of a conclusion that doesn't entirely make sense but is terrifying nonetheless.
If Kill List weren't publicized as a horror movie, you'd never guess from the first act that it is one. The film opens with characteristically British kitchen-sink realism as we're introduced to a middle-class couple hit hard by the recession, squabbling over how they're going to pay to get the broken jacuzzi in the backyard repaired. Jay (Neil Maskell) is a doughy-in-the-middle, down-on-his-luck husband, and his half-Swedish wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), is on his ass for not having worked in eight months. They're in debt. Even their seven-year-old son, Sam (Harry Simpson), calls Jay lazy, but there's obviously something more to his unemployment than a lack of initiative. Jay seems to be on the verge of snapping, and during a dinner party— with his best mate Gal (Michael Smiley) and Gal's witchy-looking new girlfriend, Fiona (Emma Fryer)—he actually does, blowing up at Shel and pulling the tablecloth out from under everyone's plates. He's on-edge, stressed, easily upset, and we hate him at first for the way he treats his wife. But there's more going on here than meets the eye.
Using practically zero unnecessary exposition—and I'd argue the film could actually use a bit more—Wheatley dribbles out backstory, slowly cuing us in to the real situation behind the superficial suburban malaise. We gradually learn that Jay and Gal were private security contractors in Iraq, and that they're now freelance hit-men. There are hints that something seriously awful went down during their last job, in Kiev—which is why PTSD- afflicted Jay is wary of taking a new gig—but Wheatley strategically withholds the details, preferring to let our imaginations do the dirty work. This is how the director treats the entire story, never spelling out what's happening, but giving just enough cryptic info to entice us. I suspect this might aggravate some viewers, and there are times when the abrupt and minimalist storytelling feels like a cop-out for not having a more substantive, thought-out plot. Still, the uncertainty generates an undeniably powerful atmosphere of dread. We don't ever know quite where the story is going— even when we come down to the final minutes—but we're dead certain it's not going to end well.
The old "one last job" trope is introduced here as Jay and Gal agree to take a high-paying contract from a creepy, vaguely Michael Caine-ish gentleman credited only as The Client (Struan Rodger), who seals the deal with some kind of blood pact, slicing open Jay's palm with a knife. The two hit men then embark on a bleak road trip across England, tracking down the targets on their titular kill list. The first is a rather beatific priest, and we're left to wonder exactly what it means when the padre smiles and mutters "thank you" before getting shot in the back of the head. The same goes for target #2, a snuff-pornographer who seems curiously grateful to be bludgeoned to death with a hammer. This particular kill triggers something in Jay, who begins to lose his steely professionalism, perhaps realizing he's gotten into something bigger and more dangerous than he could've comprehended. Incomprehensible, actually, is a good way to describe nearly everything that follows, leading up to the disturbing and mystifying final scene.
You've probably gathered as much by now, but this is a film that leaves you with questions at every turn and answers precious few of them by the time the credits roll. Those expecting a tidy, all-explaining summation of the dark conspiracy at work here—which we only catch terrifying glimpses of— will invariably be frustrated. That said, Wheatley and his co-writer/wife Amy Jump deserve credit for being brazen enough to allow viewers to fill in the blanks for themselves. Where many modern horror films predictably follow the standard genre logic, Kill List feels dangerously—and refreshingly—out of control. It probably wouldn't work as well as it does if the film weren't so technically proficient. There are a few borderline pretentious affectations—like the all-caps Helvetica title cards that pop up to announce the next target—but Kill List is moodily directed, edited with jarring cuts, and ominously scored. The performances are striking too, especially Neil Maskell's—unlikeable, then increasingly off the hinge, then oddly sympathetic. Altogether, Kill List is something like a more low-brow Lars Von Trier film in execution, and I say that as a compliment.
Kill List Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like just about every other small-budgeted indie film lately, Kill List was shot digitally using the Red One camera, and the footage transfers easily into a 1080p/AVC encode, in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I have no doubt that IFC's Blu-ray is faithful to source and intent; there's no edge enhancement here, DNR, or any other unnecessary alterations, and no glaring compression issues. The picture is clean and quite sharp throughout. From a normal viewing distance, noise is only visible in the darkest scenes—supposedly, the film was shot almost entirely with natural light—and the level of clarity is often striking. (See the finely reproduced nubbiness of Shel's terrycloth bathrobe, or the skin textures of the actors' faces in closeup.) There's occasionally some softness due to the tricky combo of imprecise focusing and shallow depth of field, but there's not much that can be done about that. Color-wise, the image is well-saturated and nicely graded, with a natural palette that's slightly stylized with punched up contrast and a creamy cast to the highlights. Black levels, skin tones, and shadow detail all look fine. An all-around strong high definition presentation.
Kill List Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Kill List's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track builds in intensity as the film goes on. The early, dialog-heavy domestic scenes feature a modicum of quiet household noise, the track-em-and-kill-em middle act adds in punches and hammer blows, and the finale explodes with unnerving screeches, bursts of gunfire, and creepy wet-subterranean-tunnel ambience. The rear channels are frequently used for effects and atmospherics, and mix is dynamically hardy, with clear highs and an undercurrent of throbbing, pulsing subwoofer output. What really makes the track is the unnerving orchestral/electronic score by TV composer Jim Williams, which amps up the dread and gives the film its tonal edge. My lone qualm is that the voices are occasionally a hair low in the mix, which can be a concern considering how thick some of the accents are. I didn't have too much trouble deciphering the dialogue, but if you need help, the disc does include optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Kill List Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Kill List Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kill List isn't without its frustrations—namely, the feeling that the lack of explanation is actually masking the lack of a real story—but it's still the most enigmatic horror film I've seen this year. I'm looking forward to watching it again to see if it's possible to pick up on additional clues and fill the holes in the plot. We'll see. Those interested in cryptic genre films, dark rituals, and British folk horror should definitely check it out, and the best way to do so is IFC's Blu-ray release, which offers strong picture quality, a spooky audio track, and two worthwhile commentary tracks. Recommended.
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Kill List Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: August 14-21 - August 13, 2012
This week, Universal Studios is offering a Blu-ray upgrade for one of the most beloved titles in its back-catalog: Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Over the years, the film's reputation has become even greater than itself. It made a generation scared to go swimming; ...
• Kill List Gets U.S. Release Date - June 2, 2012
MPI Media Group/IFC Films will release on Blu-ray director Ben Wheatley's thriller Kill List (2011), starring Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley. Last year the film won Best Supporting Actor Award (Smiley) at the British Independent Film Awards. Street ...
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