For that I really do applaud Kill List and other British films like it for turning away from trying to emulate American horrors and thrillers and looking to carve our own path forward, or perhaps even return to the path we were once on that brought us so many successful films.
It was with this sense of anticipation that I began watching Kill List, enthused and excited for what was to come.
From the opening Kill List is difficult to follow and get a hold of, to understand who and what the characters are and to get close to them. It makes it hard to get into the story from the beginning and you feel as though you, and the story, are struggling to keep up with what's actually happening.
While this is often a great tool for a film to use, particularly a thriller, where the audience is always running alongside or just behind the lead character discovering the story as the events unfold around them, it just doesn't work here are there are no clues or subtle indicators to move us forward or point the way.
From the off we know nothing of the characters and it takes an age to find out what they are talking about and what they do, when we do get there it does start to feel like we're running with the characters, but it's not long before we're even more lost than they are, doing something that makes no sense, and come the last act when things are revealed to us all, made no sense or had no connection with the story after all.
I've not seen Downhill Terrace, the film that the director Ben Wheatley delivered before Kill List, but I hear it's edited in a similar style, and that does begin to turn me off to it straight away. It's here that I struggled with Kill List and I think is one of the big issues as to why the thriller element of the film doesn't work very well.
Interestingly the second time I watched it, through the audio commentary, events at the beginning of the film made a bit more sense and I connected a little with the characters for I now knew what was going on. Still, come the actual tasks that the pair are carrying out there still seemed no understanding or connection with the later events, the real story in the film.
This is perhaps the most confusing part of the story, the actual Kill List, well all but one that is. The tasks that the pair carries out seem disconnected and carry no meaning to us. With hindsight and looked at as one complete event you could assume that these were there to bring the character to the last task on the list, but apart from an increase in the violence from Jay and a decrease in his stability, there seems little point in their string of jobs. I really believe that these characters should have had some stronger relationship to the story and the lead character's progression.
When we arrive at the point where the characters begin to understand what is going on so do we, and finally we feel as though we are beginning to grasp something about the story. There follows an interesting section of the film where I felt the story picks up and starts to show some promise. It moves from being a dramatic thriller to a supernatural one, and suddenly begins to resemble one rather famous film that is very familiar to all.
The next problem however is that the story becomes rather transparent and come the ending it was very clear what was happening and what reveals were to come. They played out by the numbers as expected and so come the end there was no surprise and no feeling of conclusion for a story that never really felt it was developing from anything, it just arrived.
With the arrival of the ending I also felt extremely short changed. The conclusion feels flat and a "so what next?" moment that almost doesn't feel like an ending. Come this point we've almost seen the creation of something new but the film stops short of the creation and any understanding of why. It's a confusing ending and not an interesting one.
Apart from the hard editing style Kill List was well filmed with strong lighting and provided for some very stylish looking scenes near the end of the film, making it feel like a much bigger production.
I'm not sure whether it's Maskell or his character, but I just couldn't connect with him in the slightest. He's a thoroughly distasteful character who managed to get me to feel nothing for him at any stage apart from confusion and disinterest. The two more interesting characters are Gal and Shel, played by MyAnna Buring.
Watching the audio commentary reveals a different side of the film, with the second viewing it feels as though I had a lot of missing exposition and understanding of the characters from the first half of the film and suddenly the story was flowing more than the first viewing. It also helps that the commentary is explaining quite a bit that I didn't get from the film itself, and it's through this that I started to understand the character more and his progression.
Their performances are good, although it does sound at times as though they are all struggling for something to say and some lines falter and scratch at the sides. However some scenes do offer stronger performances such as the dynamics between Jay and Gal where their relationship develops and then deteriorates. These are some of the stronger moments in the film and do elevate it, particularly on a second viewing.
It's also worth mentioning the effects work, for a small budget production props like the guns look and feel real, and the action sequences and the scenes of Jay hard at work with the people involved in the secret filming show off some superb effects work that are startlingly real and uncomfortable to watch.
Yet the good points don't outweigh the bigger issues and unanswered questions with the film. Just who were the people on the list and why? Why does a trained soldier such as Jay leave his old soldiering buddy Gal the way he does, totally against any instinct a soldier would have? What is it with the hand infection that one minute seems to be getting worse and then just disappears from the story? What is the whole purpose of the story? Who are the group? Much of it just doesn't work together as a coherent story.
DTS HD Master
Another aspect of the film that was all over the place was the sound. At times I was cranking the volume up to be able to hear the lines of the characters and at others I was turning it down because it became too loud. For me this really caused the audio track to fail as I couldn't truly appreciate the track. That said there are some strong moments in the audio later on in the film when the story does turn. The screaming scenes, the tunnel and the cottage at night all provide strong atmosphere through the audio, or lack of.
The picture looks good, particularly during the darker scenes, as I said it looks much more the higher budget production with strong lighting and camera work, and from the early well lit scenes to the darkened tunnel the picture looks very good on Blu-ray.
Audio Commentary with Director Ben Wheatley and Writer Amy Jump; Audio Commentary with Neil Maskell, MyAnna Burning and Michael Smiley; Making of Kill List; Interviews
Audio Commentary with Director Ben Wheatley and Writer Amy Jump
This is the most interesting commentary which gives us a lot of behind the scenes information about the film and the production as well as the actors involved in the film, and hats off to Neil for continually being aware of stopping speaking and trying to keep the information flowing. This second viewing, and the information that the two supply about the film, helped me understand and follow the film more than I did with the straightforward viewing. It's a very strong commentary and if you are going to watch the film I would recommend listening to this as well.
Audio Commentary with Neil Maskell, MyAnna Burning and Michael Smiley
The second commentary track gives us a lot of detail about the actors and the acting process as well as a great deal more of the behind the scenes details on the film, more than we received on the previous commentary. Again this provides some more insight into the film as well as some more information that perhaps should have been in the film itself.
Making of Kill List
There's not too much dialogue or explanation in this featurette but it does deliver a good amount of behind the scenes footage.
Interviews: Ben Wheatley; Neil Maskell and MyAnna Burning; Claire Jones and Andrew Starke
These are short interviews with two of the leads and those behind the film, but they do tell some interesting stories from behind the scenes and of the conception of the film and the story.
I was disappointed by Kill List, especially from the hype the film has been receiving. I had been expecting something a lot slicker and easier to follow than the film I saw. It stumbles with the story as do the audience, and it's very hard to follow it and make sense of why events are happening. The story decides to career off suddenly into something else and changed the film entirely, taking us in a completely different direction, delivering a surprise ending that you can see coming from quite a distance, and never bothering to really explain why or take us far enough with the story for any explanation.
The comparisons to an older, more famous and far more accomplished film are apparent, but unfortunately it lacks the subtlety to come close to it or the polish to bring it anywhere near the same level.
There is a lot of promise in the story, particularly the first half, but it just doesn't deliver on those promises, or when it does it only delivers a taste of what it could have or should have. In a number of ways the film feels somewhat incomplete.