Tuesday, October 30, 2012

KILL LIST (2012)

Director Ben Wheatley’s previous low budget feature, the comedic crime drama DOWN TERRACE, opens like a Mike Leigh working class film featuring low-level British thugs before it evolves into something more twisted and funny.  Wheatley opens his new film, which he co-wrote with Amy Jump, as suburbanites Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) scream about money troubles within earshot of their young son Sam (Harry Simpson).  Jay has been out of work for eight months after an “incident” in Kiev.  What this incident was or what Jay does for a living is not yet clear.  During a small dinner party Jay tells Fiona (Emma Fryer), the new girlfriend of his best chum Gal (Michael Smiley), that he works in IT.  As it turns out both Jay and Gal are hired killers by profession, and Gal has received an intriguing offer from a man known only as The Client (Struan Rodger).  The two accept the blood contract and its accompanying kill list, and from the outset the job becomes increasingly bizarre as they progress through the list.  Their first target is a parish priest strangely accepting of his fate.  Their second target, a “librarian” of pornographic films, confesses to Jay in a private moment before death that he’s honored to have met him.  This sends the hired killer on a rampage that gives us a clue as to what the Kiev incident might have entailed.  As Jay rapidly descends into madness, the film accelerates from grisly crime thriller into hardcore horror film.  Time and again Wheatley plays into and then undermines audience expectations, and the effect is disorienting and terrifying.  This would feel like a cheat but for the pervasive sense of dread that accompanies each scene and for the fearless performance by Maskell, who is always compelling but rarely sympathetic.  Smiley gives strong support as the compassionate Gal, Buring makes for a resourceful wife, and Fryer unsettles as the girlfriend who’s more than she seems.  Wheatley’s film is not for the weak of heart or constitution and manages a rare achievement.  It is a movie that, like Jay, loses its mind and leaves audience members questioning their own sanity.

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