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Friday, January 13, 2012

KILL LIST -- movie review by porfle

One of those bad-vibes flicks that stays in your gut after you watch it like a meal that doesn't agree with you, KILL LIST (2011) is a movie that may not agree with you, either.  But it's well worth staying with till the end if you have a strong stomach.

Director Ben Wheatley's mix of traditional and documentary style camerawork keeps us right in the story of an out-of-work hitman named Jay (Neil Maskell, ATONEMENT) whose relationship with fiesty wife Shel (MyAnna Buring, THE DEVIL'S CURSE, THE DESCENT) grows more volatile each day.  During a disastrous dinner with old military buddy Gal (Michael Smiley, BURKE AND HARE) and his creepy girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), Jay is offered a lucrative job in which he and Gal will eliminate a number of targets on a list given to them by a mysterious client.

After a long buildup showing Jay going through his everyday life with Shel and their beloved son Sam, the start of his murderous mission with Gal takes the movie down a dark path that gets more twisted and frightening with each new revelation.  The first victim is a priest, whom the two hitmen assume must be guilty of some sexual transgression and thus deserving of his fate.  The second is a man who refers to himself as a "librarian" and possesses some horrifying snuff DVDs that prompt an irate Jay to dispatch him as brutally as possible.  This sequence, involving some very realistic gore effects, will either have you glued to the screen or scrambling for the door.

What first appears to be simply an ultra-violent thriller makes a sudden detour through the twilight zone before veering into full-out horror territory after Jay and Gal begin to realize just how sinister their unknown clients are.  One tip-off for Jay is when victims 1 and 2 thank him for killing them.  Another, during a meeting in which a dubious Gal tries to pull out of the deal, is the threat that both they and their families will die if they don't complete their mission. 

Thus follows a descent into paranoia that infects every aspect of their lives as it becomes clear that they're part of a larger and more terrifying agenda than they could've imagined.  The final scenes, which take place in a dark forest in the dead of night, have an almost BLAIR WITCH vibe only much more visceral.

Lead performances are all fine, with Neil Maskell totally convincing as a violent man who's not inhuman--he loves his family--but frightening because he's a human capable of the most monstrous acts.  MyAnna Buring is a strong presence as Shel, making her love-hate relationship with Jay convincing and giving her character a no-nonsense resolve that will be amply displayed later on.  As Gal, Michael Smiley has a less showy but equally pivotal role, while Emma Fryer's Fiona is just plain spooky.  Much of the dialogue is improvised to give it a natural quality.

An early clue to where the story will eventually go is ominous: Fiona, excusing herself to go to the bathroom during dinner, scrawls a strange pagan symbol on the back of a mirror and then pockets a bloodstained tissue that she finds on the sink.  To give away any more of the plot would be a disservice to potential viewers, so I'll just say that the rest of KILL LIST is a journey into some really dark, claustrophobic horror that's both pulse-poundingly tense, relentlessly downbeat, and, finally, downright grotesque. 

(KILL LIST opens February 3, 2012 at IFC Center In NYC.)

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