HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, February 19, 2011

THE KILLING JAR -- DVD review by porfle

Stay away from out-of-the-way diners after dark, THE KILLING JAR (2010) seems to be telling us, since you never know what kind of desperate character may come walking in.  And if he looks like Michael Madsen, you know you should've skipped the pecan pie and skedaddled five minutes ago.

This tense thriller by writer-director Mark Young (SOUTHERN GOTHIC) is one of those single-location movies that could easily be performed as a stage play, which means that the focus is on character and dialogue.  Neither are very deep here, but they get the job done pretty well, mainly due to a capable cast. 

Amber Benson (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) plays weary waitress Noreen, who dreams of getting out of Silver Lake (where the tourists don't go anymore since the lake dried up) but works in a dingy diner for ill-tempered cook Jimmy (Danny "MACHETE" Trejo).  It's almost closing time on a hot night when news comes over the radio of four grisly murders not far away, with the ill-fated family's killer still at large. 

A likely suspect enters as Noreen is chatting with a mild-mannered traveling salesman named John Dixon (Harold Perrineau, "Link" of MATRIX: RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS) on his way through town.  The stranger is foulmouthed and surly, prompting local deputy Lonnie (Lew Temple, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS) to start Barney Fife-ing him.  This proves to be a bad move, and before long "Doe" is threatening his seven terrified captives with a pump shotgun and getting crazier by the minute.

Michael Madsen does a lot of glorified cameo roles these days, so it's good to see him sink his teeth into a part that's not all that different from the kill-crazy Mr. Blonde of RESERVOIR DOGS, only without the mordant sense of humor.  His "Doe" is scary dangerous in a wary, calculated way and when he goes off and gets violent, the character is coldblooded and unpredictable. 

Young, whose direction is efficient without drawing attention to itself, throws a few curves at us to keep the story moving.  These include the arrival of Mr. Greene (Jake Busey), a shady businessman who's there to meet a Mr. Smith, whom he's never seen before.  Is it Doe, or is Mr. Smith someone else in the diner?  It might even be trucker Hank (the always-fine Kevin Gage of HEAT and LAID TO REST). 

Young builds a fair amount of suspense as Doe singles out his captives one at a time to terrorize and interrogate them, and people do get killed badly.  Still, much of the drama is psychological, so don't expect a gorefest--aside from a couple of grisly shots here and there, you'll have to use your DVD players' frame-advance to see an exploding head or two.  While none of this is unbearably nailbiting and the major plot twists are fairly predictable, the finale is nicely played and ends the movie on a satisfying note.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  A trailer is the sole extra.

THE KILLING JAR probably won't sear itself into your movie memory banks or have you swooning in cinematic ecstasy, but it's a solid little suspense thriller with some good performances and an absorbing story.  Best of all, it's a chance to see an aging Mr. Blonde at the end of his rope, going mental and getting trigger-happy one last time. 

Buy it at

No comments: