Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)

In this gritty gory treat from the UK's Ben Wheatley (the man behind 2009's crime caper Down Terrace) two best friends who share a dark past from their military service accept a simple mission that takes them to unimagined, bizarre, and truly terrifying places.

The motive is of course money and it's soon learned that the two have done this kind of work before; they have been hit men for some time and as we come to find out it takes a lot to make these two flinch, we can only assume that active service as desensitised them to violence but this is just one of many questions that the film refuses to answer. The mission is simple, over the course of a few days the two must complete three assassinations - they are given a list with the basic information they need. What appears to be a simple in out job for some quick money soon turns into something far more sinister as each victim of their killings become increasingly confusing and contradicting. It all starts with the first victim (a priest) saying thank you before being shot in the head, what follows is an almost unbearably intense mystery that I will spoil none of.

Kill List works for two thirds of the way in but seems to abandon all the brilliance of its setup for an utterly disappointing ending - whether its the timing or the execution of this problematic ending that bothers or if more simply its just plain ridiculous is hard to answer without a second viewing, for now though I have to go with the former. Without spoiling anything the film's lacklustre climax is partly caused by a sudden change of pace and tone that can only be compared to the climax of Danny Boyle's partly genius Sunshine (2007), for those who've seen this example hopefully that helps somewhat.

It can only be hoped that (like Sunshine) Kill List can be saved by the shear quality of its first two acts as they are truly spectacular. At the centre is the friendship between Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley aka - Tyres from Spaced), the two men on the mission destined for tragedy; their fondness for one another and their shared history is portrayed so well  it reminds how few films fail to create believable characters you actually care for, the film succeeds in making them warm to you despite being nasty pieces of work. The conversations unravel naturalistically and feel like exchanges between two best friends, the results are often crude but none the less hilarious. What Kill List really brings home and is worth raving about is the atmosphere set up from the get go; a suppressive, suffocating atmosphere that's so intense it's almost unbearable to endure and this is before we've been shown any of the intensely graphic violence also in store for us lucky spectators. Possibly the most uncomfortable viewing in the film comes strangely from a 'civilised' dinner party very early on.

Kill List is an ambiguous crime mystery that mostly succeeds in its ambitions. Whether its' problematic ending will become less of a burden with subsequent viewings can only be hoped for as this exciting and memorable British film has so much promise it's a devastating prospect to be thought of as spoilt goods.

For fans of:  The Wicker Man (1973) Gangster No.1 (2000) The Descent (2005),