Kill List Review (TIFF 2011) – Where the hell am I?

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Sitting down for The Raid, during the first night of Midnight Madness, the programmer, Colin Geddes, briefly went through the lineup with us. He told us about the action packed The Raid, the all-night game of cops and robbers in Sleepless Night, the crossbow wielding killers in You’re Next, etc. When he got to the closing night film, Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, he said ‘You are going to walk out of here at 2am and not know where the fuck you are’. That was quite the introduction to a film, and could have been hard for the film to live up to. The Q&A after the film brought me back down to earth, but I have to admit, while the credits were rolling I did experience a mild case of amnesia and wondered why I was sitting in a movie theatre. That is the power of Kill List, unfortunately to enjoy the same experience you need to know next to nothing about the film, a difficult task given how easily information is passed around these days. Also, it kind of makes it hard to write a meaningful review and not ruin the film. Here’s my best shot.

Kill List is about a retired hitman named Jay (Neil Maskell), his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and young son. Jay didn’t retire because of old age, rather we are lead to believe that an event eight months ago in Kiev forced him into retirement. As a result, Jay hasn’t brought home any money for nearly a year and the relationship with his wife has become quite unstable. One evening over dinner, Jay’s friend Sam (Harry Simpson) suggests returning to the profession for one job, a total of three hits and a pile of money for their troubles. Jay’s in a bind, and doesn’t take long to agree. However, this is one assignment that the friends will regret for the rest of their lives, that is, if they live through it.

I’ve tried to keep this write-up as spoiler free as possible. There are enough detailed reviews, trailers and just general spoilers out there to ruin Kill List for a large number of people. My advice would be to avoid all information about the film and just wait for a chance to watch it. However, if you need some information about the film, then let me tell you that Kill List is dark, violent, gritty, dark, almost humourless, and dark; an abysmal gulf of hatred lies at the heart of the film. The pace of the film is quite slow for the majority of the runtime, but when Wheatley changes gears, prepare for a unique cinematic experience. I couldn’t be higher on Kill List, and for an estimated budget of £500,000, Wheatley seems like a film guru.

Note: When I write reviews I try to stay clear of other opinions, so that I do not compensate for a film that I feel is being wrongfully dismissed, or conversely, come down too hard on a film that I feel is being overly praised. However, with Kill List it was impossible not to notice the polarizing nature of the film before I wrote the review. Many reviewers loved it, others despised it. I have trouble understanding why some would hate this film, but it is possible that some of these unhappy critics knew too much about Kill List going in, and in turn, were let down in some sense. Just a thought, and another reason to go into this movie completely ignorant of the plot.

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