MPI // 2011 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 14th, 2012
A mind-blowing genre concoction.
Britain has produced its share of independent crime thrillers. After all, they led to Guy Ritchie and his Sherlock Holmes franchise. On the surface of things, Kill List sounds like it's going to follow in those low-budget footsteps. It's the tale of a hit man (Neil Maskell, Basic Instinct 2) who gets pulled in for one last job with his partner (Michael Smiley, Down Terrace) several months after the pair had a rough go of it during a job in Kiev.
That's where Kill List becomes very difficult to talk about. I'll get to some of the challenging stuff in a bit, but this film fundamentally asks its audience to accept its world with very little payoff until the end -- and that ending is just as likely to piss viewers off as make them give rousing cheers. So in an age of instant digital gratification, Kill List goes the opposite route, asking viewers to invest 75 minutes waiting for the final 15 minutes to really kick in. I don't want to say exactly what the ending is like, or really even characterize it, as surprise is one of the biggest factors the film has on its side.
So what, then, can I say about the film? Well, not only is it audacious for making the audience wait until the final act to really learn what's up, but it also provides us with a view of hitmen rarely seen. Sure, films like Grosse Point Blank try to give us a bit of the day-to-day lives of contract killers, but Kill List does one better. Our "hero" has a wife and a son, and much of the film is taken up with him either rowing with his wife or playing with his son. Even when out on the job, our two hit men make banal conversation. It's not the banal raised to the poetry of Tarantino dialogue. No, they have regular conversations that most films would cut out.
One way to get at Kill List is to compare it to other films that viewers might be familiar with. In some ways it's like Drive, a flick that seems like it's going to offer one kind of genre pleasure but instead offers another. In another way its closest companion might be Ti West's The House of the Devil. That was another film that spent the majority of its running time being one kind of film before switching gears in the final reel to offer up some disturbing horror. Like The House of the Devil, many viewers will find Kill List to be slow until the final moments of the film, when the truth is revealed. There are also numerous parallels with A Serbian Film, though Kill List is not quite as extreme as that particular film.
Although the film might be a much for some viewers, IFC have lavished the film with an excellent Blu-ray edition which mirrors the film's native British release. The 2.35:1 AVC-encoded image is particularly gorgeous. Much of the film takes place in darkened spaces (especially the climax), but detail is always strong and black levels are consistent and deep. Colors are well-saturated, and digital artefacts are never a problem. Considering the relatively small budget, Kill List (Blu-ray) looks well-nigh perfect. Sound plays a more important role in Kill List than it does in many horror films (a trait it shares with The House of the Devil), and the DTS-HD 5.1 surround track offered here is clear and immersive in pretty much every way. The score is especially impressive, but the dialogue comes through clean and clear from the center channel. I didn't even have to turn on the included English subs to pick up what the actors were saying despite their accents.
All the extras from the UK Blu-ray have made it over here as well. They kick off with a commentary featuring director/writer Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump. They spend much of the track talking about the rigors of filming, but do turn to the meaning of the film as things heat up towards the end. It's a very worthwhile track for fans of the film. A second commentary track features the principles, and the trio of actors shares their perspective on making the film. It's not quite as compelling as the track with the writers. There are also a trio of interviews, with Wheatley, the film's producers, and the actors who play the husband/wife team in the film. These total around 25 minutes, offering insights into where the film originated and where it ended up. There is also an 8-minute making-of featurette and the film's trailer.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the film and though the somewhat slow pace was completely offset by the power of the ending. However, I'm not at all sure how to sell prospective viewers on the film without ruining the surprise. Kill List might be the ultimate rental recommendation for adventurous fans of crime thrillers and moodier horror films.
Not guilty, but the less knowledge and more tolerance you have going in, the better.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated