Kill List Blu-ray Review
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump
2011, Region B (PAL), 95 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 26th December 2011
Neil Maskell as Jay
MyAnna Buring as Shel
Michael Smiley as Gal
Emma Fryer as Fiona
Harry Simpson as Sam
Kill List has been the British independent film this year to take audiences by surprise. Since its limited theatrical release this September, it has received high praise and a growing cult fan base. The gritty thriller is now seeing its DVD release and at HorrorTalk we want to know what the fuss is all about.
The film follows ex-soldier turned hit man, Jay (Neil Maskell), who after a long stint out of work is offered a new job by his good friend Gal (Michael Smiley). A previous botched effort has haunted Jay but he decides he is ready to work again, alongside his colleague Gal. They accept the contract from a group of unnamed men, who sign a deal in blood. As the job goes underway, things start to spiral out of control and Jay’s paranoia begins to get in the way.
The synopsis really gives nothing away to what Kill List is really going to be like. It sounds like a bog-standard British gangster film, but as it plays out it becomes more involving and it is apparent darker things lurk beneath the surface. Nothing about this is generic, so the uncertainty of where the story is going, and who these people really are, both the hit men and their employers, is something that will keep you unsettled for the entire run of the movie.
The film’s success rests on the acting and the setting of the film. Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley are really well suited, their chemistry is very important as our perception of events rests with these two, when they laugh it is funny and when they are violent, it is threatening. A particularly grim and involving scene happens at the start of the movie as Jay and his wife hold a dinner party and invite Gal and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). The tension is unbearable and it manages to keep us on edge not knowing when it will erupt, but the threat of violence rests uneasy in the air. What is particularly interesting about this scene is how the acting felt like it was improvised, the dialogue seems natural and it isn’t clear what direction it is all heading, giving it a realistic, gritty feel. The setting also plays a big part in everything this movie evokes, the run down gloomy hills of the Yorkshire countryside seem to dampen the spirits of the characters and this darkness makes the film very claustrophobic.
There is a lot of dark humour, at times laughter seems a welcome break from the tension of the on-going situations, and things seem a lot funnier than they probably really are. One thing that is surprising is how brutal this film is and because of this, laughter actually becomes a weird coping mechanism for the incredibly violent images on screen. Everything feels real which is why it has such an impact, you see just enough and nothing more.
It is brilliantly paced, its draws you in and reveals pieces of a puzzle at its leisure. It’s not in any rush to get anywhere which is why tension is the most successful part of the film. We start out with a couple having marriage and financial problems causing a volatile relationship, but it quickly shifts back to loving and tender. It successfully jolts you around emotionally so nothing can ever be taken for granted, if you ever feel at any point the film is going somewhere, it quickly changes course leaving you bewildered.
Though this is a successfully intense experience, it suffers from an often confusing story that can take away from a lot of the atmosphere and the last 15 minutes feels like it suddenly jolts to a different style and becomes something else, which will inevitably divide people’s opinion. Those may love the course it takes, but for others, it will rest uneasy and leave you slightly dissatisfied. No matter where you sit with that aspect of it though, there is no denying the strengths this film presents which reflects brilliantly on the rising talent of director Ben Wheatley. Along with Wheatley’s first film Down Terrace, Kill List proves this is a director to watch, producing quality material on a small budget is beyond impressive on the scale he has achieved.
It’s a film you may enjoy more in the aftermath of watching it, when you’re thinking about it over and over again, which believe me you will. It gives you a lot to chew on and mull over, so much so it begs for a second watch. Going in second time round may be more exciting, all the things you could possibly unearth that you missed the first time round will be a tantalising prospect.
Video and Audio:
The Blu Ray has a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and though a lot of what is on screen is dark, there were no issues in clarity. There is a setup of 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or 2.0 stereo and also the option for English subtitles.
There are some informative interviews with director Ben Wheatley, actors Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring, producers Claire Jones and Andrew Starke which reveal a lot about the process of making the film, and the initial thoughts about making it. There is also the option to have a few commentaries, which include Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, and also Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley which makes a nice little selection for this Blu Ray.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are publicity stills and not a reflection of the Blu-ray image.*