Duration: 95 mins
You wait around for ages and then a few come at once. No, not buses, but British films. 2011 has proven a respectable year for acclaimed, home-grown cinema with Oscar-gobbler The King's Speech, followed by indie hit Submarine, and most recently the superb Tyrannosaur.
It's not unthinkable to mention Ben Wheatley's sophomore effort in the same breath, either. Kill List is the writer/director's follow up to engaging, yet underrated crime/comedy Down Terrace and couldn't be more anti-Hollywood if it tried. The antisocial realism and gritty authenticity he harnesses in his debut recur in a film already gaining praise for its boldness.
Wheatley's underlining themes of friendship and family seep through into the picture's edgy and intense set up: married couple Jay (Neil Maskell), and Shel (MyAnna Buring), are going through somewhat of a rough patch as they bring up their young son, Sam (Harry Simpson). Encouraged by colleague and close friend Gal (Michael Smiley), Jay is pressured into doing a job that places the title into context. What takes place thereafter begins as fairly routine stuff, but quickly mutates into something fractured and, at times, disturbing. Indeed it would be unfair to divulge too much information, but Kill List is a one-off: something special and rarely seen in cinema today. The narrative takes its audience down a dark tunnel of bizarre and shockingly graphic progression that'll no doubt leave you with a sense of disbelief long after.
Technically, the film is spot on: it's directed in such a confidently affirmed manner that it's hard not to appreciate what's on offer, even if such an affable approach is harshly juxtaposed by depictions of grotesque violence as such gratuity is handled with impeccable poise. The story flows with fluidity, complemented by a capable narrative to depict some truly powerful story telling. The script is finely tuned as with some of the most naturalistic dialogue you're likely to see this year, which is certainly one of Kill List's strengths; we are granted access into the lives of the characters, which feels voyeuristic in nature, as family dysfunctionality unravels.
Thanks to the superb writing, the characters are fleshed out and believably realised offering first-class naturalistic performances. Maskell and Smiley's laddish friendship serves to humorously detract when said pair get overzealous with one another. Similarly, Maskell's chemistry with onscreen partner Buring is excellent through times of embrace, argument and despair. The result is something that grips and engages as each scene feels intrinsic to reality, drawing you further into their quaint world.
Furthermore, as the story takes an odd twist here and there as logic is rendered obsolete in the scheme of things. The atmosphere is accentuated by a perfect score that generates smouldering tension as Jay and Gal edge closer to fulfilling their obligations, thus ridding themselves of affiliation with aging contractor simply known as The Client (Struan Rodger).
What plays out as a volatile hitman story suddenly breaks free of its genre constraints in the final third. It schizophrenically throws you into a bottomless pit of surreal horror. As well as the intensity cranking up several notches, a fear factor resonates in an effort to discombobulate entirely, not least its audience. Difficult to mention without revealing spoilers, Wheatley makes a conscious effort to distort the narrative as it draws to an ambiguous conclusion, but that's not to say it stutters in comparison to the rest of the film. In fact, it's a tremendously bold move that'll leave you to ponder during an inevitable post-cinema debate.
Never has a film left audiences with such an intriguing lack of clarity. Not since the obscurity of Donnie Darko has a film frazzled one's head so much, with plot threads and attempts at explanation becoming a point of speculation for days, if not weeks after. In short, Wheatley softly, softly, eases you into familiar territory- a setting that oozes realism, yet remains hard hitting- before punching you square in the face with an almighty mind-fuck-of-a-knuckle-sandwich. Nor does he hold qualms about grabbing you by the scruff of your neck, as he drags you down whatever path he deems fit and so forcefully does so that the assault on your logic makes you more than willing to venture into his twisted psyche than ever.
Inevitably the climax will leave some underwhelmed, however, what you're invited to do is to think outside the box and spruce some imagination rather than merely accepting obligatory spoon-fed answers used by many of its contemporaries. Sure, the final 20 minutes is disjointed and tonally feels very separated and, while some will look upon this negatively, it is this commendable approach to film-making that'll leave you gasping in awe.
Kill List is a uniquely stylish, genre-hybrid-of-a-movie. Crafted as an emotionally gripping and ultra realistic piece of drama, it stands apart from other contemporary film as courageous and daring. British cinema has once again been elevated to the heights of decades gone by, with a perfectly executed and thought provoking story that feels utterly gripping.