Kill List Reviewed

There is a school of thought that you should know very little about this film before you go to see it, if only so you can sleep at night. So with that in mind you should probably go and see it now...
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Before I start, I’ll quickly sum up every single review I’ve seen for Kill List so far.

*something something* …Director Ben Wheatley brings us a low budget… *something something* …whose strained home life and financial problems… *something something* …he and his friend Gal are actually hitmen… *something something* …who come across a bit like/nothing like John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson*something something* …it becomes clear that things aren’t quite what they seem… *something something* …and with excessively graphic violence… *something something* …ends up going a bit Blair Witch meets Wickerman… *something something* …don’t want to give too much away but… *something something* …actually makes perfect sense if you were paying attention… *something something* …4 stars.

Why am I treating you to this? Well, mostly because nobody wants to actually talk about the plot. The most overused expression applied to this film is that audiences will be much better going in “blind”, i.e knowing as little about what’s happening as they possibly can. I’m inclined to agree.

In fact, reviewing the film at all almost feels irrelevant. The hype, buzz or whatever that’s already surrounding the film will be enough for most people to delve into their pockets and produce enough fluff and buttons to get them into a screening, so me bleating on about the direction and colour palette isn’t going to alter that one jot.

What I do want to talk about though, is something that hacks nationwide seem to have all but overlooked so far. Specifically, how mentally and emotionally exhausting this film is.

From start to finish there isn’t a single moment where you feel comfortable enough to relax your arse cheeks and make something resembling a dent in your popcorn. I’m not sure how Wheatley’s done it, but he manages to make a scene where a husband and wife exchange barbed comments to each other at a dinner party as excruciating to watch as a man having his kneecap smashed off with a hammer.

So see it. Immediately. The sooner you do the sooner you can start losing sleep over it …*something something*… 5 stars.

No honestly, just as excruciating.

The reason it keeps you so constantly unsettled is because it never allows itself to nestle into anything remotely resembling a routine. The themes and characters constantly and profoundly evolve with the plot, so much so that as every single event occurs, you have no idea how relevant it might be or how the people on screen will react to it.

At first it’s a war film, dealing mostly with the strains and stresses that come from being apart from your family for a long time. Next it’s a gangster film and your attention is being drawn to the murky world of contract killings and how the rudimentary nature in the daily routines of these men beguiles the horror in their work. Then out of nowhere it’s a psychological thriller, and you’re hand in hand with our two leads as, what was at first a fairly straightforward job, spirals out of control into some sick tapestry of shady organisations and frankly disturbing undertones. Before finally it’s a full on horrific occultist slasher flick and OH MY GOD I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE.

Every single minute of this film is difficult to watch, and I just want you to actually take a moment to consider how absurd a concept that actually is. It has action scenes, family scenes, scary scenes, funny scenes and intimate scenes; speeches, montages, discussions, back-’n'-forths and fights; a shoot out, a domestic, a brutal torture, a bed time story and a murder of a priest; deals with Iraq, separation, murder, psychology, bromance and the fucking occult.

Scream 4 had Neve Campbell.

But it works. It should be a total mess that loses both your patience and attention half-way through, but every line, every look, every little thing about it welds you to your seat with its own infeasible anxiousness. I actually caught myself biting my nails (I never bite my nails) during a scene involving nothing more than a man tapping a tea spoon against a mug SUCH WAS THE TENSION.

It’s an impossible piece of filmmaking and everything you’ve just read is to be taken as praise.

The final thirty minutes is, to put it bluntly, a one off. Nobody has ever committed something like that to tape and managed to get it screened in a cinema before and, if anyone tries again, I’ll personally egg them from a moving bus for their troubles. I’d actually be all in favour of having Wheatley, immediately prior to the last act, appear on screen and smugly whisper to the audience “you honestly have no idea where I’m about to go with this” without batting an eyelid.

I should also mention the violence, as every bugger else has.

Yes, it’s bone-shakingly graphic. If you ever wondered exactly what someone having their skull beaten in over your gran’s kitchen table would look (and sound) like, Kill List will provide you with an unflinching close up of the nasty bits. However the important thing to remember when knee-jerk Mail readers eventually catch wind of it, is that it’s never glorified.

But where the Guy Ritche brand of comic bloodshed often revelled in its own silliness, Wheatley is simply making the point that these are men and women who do consummately terrible things, things that you, as an outsider, can’t truly comprehend. To understand it, you have to first be shocked, and then gradually be sickened by it.

The scariest thing of all though (aside from the fact I spied petrol for £1.17 a litre), is that with this film marking one of the last death rattles of the UK Film Council, there’s a distinct chance we’ll not witness its like again for a very, very long time. I mean, when was the last time you watched something that still had all the cogs whirring around inside your head for days after the credits have rolled?

So see it. Immediately. The sooner you do the sooner you can start losing sleep over it …*something something*… 5 stars.

This article first appeared on KYEO, the North-East’s daily arts and culture dispatch. Click here for more information.

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