Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kill List (2012)

Kill List (2012)
Dir. Ben Wheatley

3.5 out of 5

Kill List is an angry, angry film set in modern-day Britain, but its close-up examination of moral bankruptcy is universal. It peels back the layers of a discontented, war-weary, and financially untenable society until we see nothing but its raw nerves and seething rage. We see this darkness gradually enveloping ex-soldier and private security contractor Neil Maskell, who is driven by economic pressures and his ball-busting wife (MyAnna Buring) to take a job as a contract hitman for a mysterious employer, despite his many reservations. His boss's insistence on signing a blood contract is just the first sign that something is amiss. What's more, the victims on Maskell's hit list all seem to recognize him. They hint that the bloodshed is part of a larger plan, accepting death with a chilly tranquility that's unsettling even to a cold-blooded killer.

A salvo against slickly-produced, lifeless crime thrillers masquerading as exploitation films, Kill List is a character study of a man whose fury simultaneously drives and consumes him. Scuttling around the darkest corners of Maskell's psyche (it's strongly suggested that he suffers from PTSD), writer-director Ben Wheatley creates a feeling of constant disorientation onscreen. Maskell's utter confusion is perfectly married to his lack of grace - a man of action grudgingly accepting that he can do nothing but react. His long-suffering sidekick (Michael Smiley) can only do so much to smooth over his colleague's boiling rage with a disarming sense of humor. Smiley's humanity never rubs off on Maskell, a proper peach who rejects his young son's request for bedtime stories about King Arthur in favor of ones about his own war-scarred past.

Wheatley's stark, elliptical style is heavily indebted to Lars Von Trier, with scenes of domestic discord smashing up against grisly violence and ominous symbolism. Essentially, Kill List is Von Trier by way of David Fincher, a parable of the destruction wrought by man's hubris packaged inside of a twisty, voyeuristic film about society's criminal underbelly - not a bad pedigree for one's second feature. But this also means that the film often feels overly familiar when it should feel more assured. Wheatley's reference points and hint-dropping may tip off astute viewers to the story's climax too far in advance, and the film's last twenty minutes feel like a peculiarly specific response to the disastrous Neil LaBute-Nicolas Cage remake of The Wicker Man. The success of Wheatley's homage to and/or meta-commentary on British horror is a secondary concern, though. Kill List easily stands on its own merits, mining the depths of a confused and dissolute world to propel a bruising, bracing morality play.

"Kill List" is receiving a very limited theatrical release but is also available via Video On Demand.

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