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Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Kill List

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Produced by: Claire Jones
Andy Starke

Screenplay by: Ben Wheatley
Amy Jump

Starring: Neil Maskell
Michael Smiley
MyAnna Buring
Emma Fryer

Music by: Jim Williams

Cinematography by: Laurie Rose

Editing by: Ben Wheatley
Robin Hill
Amy Jump

Studio(s): Rook Films
Warp X
Film4 Productions
Screen Yorkshire
UK Film Council

Distributed by: Optimum Releasing (United Kingdom)
IFC Films (United States)

Release date(s): March 12, 2011 (South By Southwest Film Festival)
August 20, 2011 (Espoo Film Festival)
August 28, 2011 (FrightFest)
September 2, 2011 (United Kingdom)
February 3, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: £500,000

Box office revenue (as of publication): $142, 697


This time I was right! I'm gonna ride the lightning while there's thunder still in the air, so as well as reviewing this, I've reviews for The Way Back and Source Code coming in. On a side note, I said that I was going to see The Artist, but unfortunately (through no fault of my own. No, really!), I couldn't. I showed up at the Queens Film Theatre twenty minutes before the 19.30 start time, and the place was bunged, between people coming in from the previous 17.30 screening and those looking to get in for the next one. So, I got to box office, and lo and behold, the screening was sold out, so ended up having a solitary pint in the Students Union and going home. While I was disappointed, I have to say given the circumstances I am happy to see that there is such an audience interest in silent film. Regardless of what they think about it, in the end, people are paying their hard-earned money to see the film, and it shows the level of just how openminded audiences are when they aren't being fed assembly-line balderdash from Hollywood like battery hens. I might not have got to see it, but I believe it will be coming out soon in multiplexes, so, keep your eyes posted!

So, today we have Kill List, a British film that debuted in the United Kingdom to a warm reception at the 2011 FrightFest. It has been picking up a significant amount of buzz from various other festivals as the scariest horror film of the year. Interestingly, like last year's "Best Horror Film" (source: me!) Tony, this is one of those horror movies which is set in the real world and involves people as opposed to ghouls. Jay (Neil Maskell), a former British soldier based in Kiev, is shown as having marital troubles, particularly in the financial department, with wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). So, when friend and fellow contract killer Gal (Michael Smiley) comes to him with a contract promising a big payoff, he agrees to join him. I'm not going to get into too much detail with regards to the story, as it is one of those one's that it is better to go into blank.

To start off with what is good about Kill List, I must compliment the film's overall atmosphere. Throughout, there is a highly unnerving sense of dread, even whenever it is just an interaction between Jay and Gal. Speaking of which, both Maskell and Smiley give very believable and naturalistic performances as their respective characters. Because of the film's cinema verite nature, they come across not as characters but instead real people, and this adds to the overall picture. Also, as characters they are well-written and I thought that the dialogue (whether improvised or not) was excellent and the two played it with great timing. Ben Wheatley, the film's writer-director, has a good handle on the material and, for the most part, remains consistent in his solid direction. Also, Laurie Rose' cinematography is inventive and subversive, but also rather varied in terms the range of shots and approaches to shooting the film. Given how low-budget the picture is, Rose' contribution to what works about Kill List cannot be underestimated. Similarly, Jim Williams' minimalist score is subtle to the point were you might not remember what it is, and in terms of film theory I always espouse 'less is more,' as in less scenes in movies should have a score over the top of the scene, but those rules are made to be broken. In this case, Williams' score is consistent throughout, and while I like my films to be rough and raw, I doubt that the lack of score would have made Kill List as intense an experience as it is, and this score had me feeling very uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout much of the film. Finally, I have to commend Wheatley for making a realist horror film that is set in the real world and lacks the traditional trademarks of a 'horror' film, yet still remains an uncomfortable, claustrophobic experience. It is for the most part a genuine triumph.

Now, I did like Kill List, but these kind words said, I don't think it is a great movie for a number of reasons. The script by Wheatley and Amy Jump, which has well-written characters and dialogue, is structurally messy and falls apart in the final act. For me, I felt that it should have stuck to it's guns, and without spoiling anything, it was already nightmarish enough without having to throw the audience into unnecessary horror film histrionics. Also, I don't think that the film was as well edited as it was shot, and in the final act, excluding one particularly unnerving scene, I thought that it did degenerate into horror film gimmicky. It reminded me of that rubbish final act of Sunshine, which was all the more disappointing given how much I was into the film. I hate to use that rhetoric about Kill List, but that is how it made me feel!

That said, even with these problems, in a rather lackluster year for genuinely good horror films, Kill List is a stand-out. It has some very good, naturalistic performances, strong cinematography, (mostly) consistent direction, with well-written characters and dialogue and a subtly intelligent score. Furthermore, it has a wholly unique atmosphere of genuine uncomfortableness that should be commended. As a film with it's flaws, it still stands as a really good horror film with a number of commendable qualities.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amped (the ball's still rolling!)

P.S. Oh, I forgot MyAnna Buring is also very good in this film. Appologgies!

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