When we get it right, the horror genre is one that us Brits get really right! Recently showing at this years Fright Fest film festival, Kill List is one such film. Making its way to Blu-ray and DVD now, you’ll find our review below…
From director Ben Wheatley, Kill List is a mind-blowing blend of family drama, hitman action-thriller and terrifying psychological horror film, telling the story of an ex-soldier turned contract killer who is plunged into the heart of human darkness. Eight months after a disastrous hit job in Kiev left him physically and mentally scarred, Jay (Neil Maskell) is pressured by his partner Gal (Michael Smiley), into taking a new assignment. As they descend into the bizarre, disturbing world of the contract, Jay’s own world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia send him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return…
Kill List is an extremely hard film to review. The narrative is so well constructed that it would be criminal to give too much away and ruin the experience for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to see it yet. Having said that, it’s easy to see why it’s been touted as the best horror film of the year… Blending a traditional sense of horror with darkly comic undertones and unnerving thriller genre tension, Kill List is a plethora of all the things that make audiences enjoy scary movies.
The mind-bending and (at times) totally confusing narrative means Kill List is reminiscent of cult horror favourite, The Wicker Man. Indeed, the film certainly demonstrates the same kind – and level – of unsettling tension in the atmosphere throughout the whole narrative that the 1970s classic of the genre does. Like The Wicker Man, Kill List is already scary long before any of the true horror and uncomfortable violence ever comes close to being on screen. This is probably the films greatest asset. In an age where torture porn horror has become the norm within the genre (I mean just how many Saws and The Human Centipedes do audiences really need!?!) it’s refreshing to see a film that harks back to the ‘good ol’ fashioned’ breed of horror cinema where atmosphere counts for far more than mindless gore. Kill List hooks its audience in by immediately setting an unnerving tone, and whilst there may be a fair few instances of extreme violence, it is actually this tension within the atmosphere that drives the narrative forward and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats The film itself is undoubtedly following in the footsteps of The Wicker Man and well on its way to becoming a cult classic with audiences: an accolade that it fully deserves!
The film also derives much of its success from the remarkable performances at the centre of the piece. Stars Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley give superb central performances that fully encompass the various emotions and mental states within their characters. Maskell makes Jay a truly three dimensional character, a man who’s mind is unable to face the (unexplained) trauma of his experiences as a soldier. Despite becoming a horrendous psychopath as the film progresses, Jay is also an entirely human character. Maskell manages to imbue definite flaws within the character’s psyche, but never completely eliminates the human being he once was. The actor has a great ability to appear psychopathically intense on screen whilst never fully alienating viewers. Smiley is equally profound within his role of Gal, a violent and persuasive man who you wouldn’t want to cross. Smiley convinces within the role, but also manages to interject some genuine moments of welcome comic relief in a film that is so dark and intense that laughter is the last expression audiences would expect to exhibit.
Whilst comedy is welcome within such a film, it can often rip the pre-built tension to shreds and ultimately ruin the mood of the film, but here, Smiley manages to lighten the mood without disturbing the overarching sense of dread that is key to the films tone: a true talent! Both Maskell and Smiley exhibit a strong chemistry and they make their characters extremely intriguing through their on screen relationship. Both evoke a sense of brotherhood between the characters, but also manage to create an inner conflict for audiences through their abilities to demonstrate the ultimately destructive nature of this friendship too. MyAnna Buring also offers stellar support as Jay’s wife Shel. I had the pleasure of working with MyAnna on a National Film & Television School short film called Au Revoir Monkey last year and it’s clear that the actress has continued to develop her unquestionable talent. She brings an intensity to the screen that brings her supporting character well and truly to life here and Shel stands as the only voice of reason as the film progresses. Together, all three key performers create a crew of intriguing and entirely memorable characters.
Kill List is a low budget British film and as such has transferred to a high definition print as well as such a film could. For the most part this transfer is pretty decent. However, there are moments of rather noticeable, unsightly grain that will probably distract most viewers. Other moments of blemishing and other visual distortion creep in at places, but these are not severe enough to cause any real problems for viewers. Unfortunately, some will probably prefer attaching the standard definition DVD version on a normal DVD player, which will undoubtedly be less problematic on the visual side.
Despite certain flaws in the imagery, the colour palettes are well devised and help set the tone of the film nicely. Images are generally quite stark in terms of colour, giving the film an austere and unfriendly feel, working harmoniously with the plot of the narrative. It’s generally a very dark film and the intensely deep, inky blacks help to not only shroud the film in darkness, but also mystery. On an audio level the film is proficient. For the most part dialogue is clean, clear and crisp throughout, but there a few minor instances when the musical soundtrack swallows this up slightly and making it harder to hear. However, these are few and far between and generally speaking there is excellent definition between the various audio channels.
Studiocanal have put together a solid Blu-ray package, with a host of supplementary material that will certainly please most viewers. A series of engaging and informative interviews complement the two audio commentaries. The bonus material is both in depth and entertaining, giving viewers an excellent glimpse behind the scenes of the production. The Blu-ray release contains the following special features:
• Commentary with Director Ben Wheatley and Writer Amy Jump
• Commentary with Actors Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley
• Making Of Kill List
• Interview with Ben Wheatley
• Interview with Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring
• Interview with Claire Jones and Andrew Starke
Film: 4.5 out of 5
The unique concoction of genre blending makes Kill List an intriguing and intensely engaging film. Viewers are not likely to have seen anything like it before and will undoubtedly find themselves blown away by the immense violence, terror and dark comedy that makes it such an excellent film.
Visuals: 3 out of 5
Kill List has been upgraded to high definition as best as possible, but unfortunately there remains enough grain, blemishing and other forms of distortion to render it less than flawless. Although these may not affect all viewers, there are a few moments where most will find the images distracting.
Audio: 3.5 out of 5
The audio is generally better than the visual quality, but there are a few occasions where dialogue is swallowed up by the musical soundtrack. However, generally speaking the dialogue is clean and clear, with strong definition between the various different audio channels.
Extras: 4 out of 5
The quality and variety of the bonus material found on this release is impressive. The majority of viewers will undoubtedly enjoy the informative and engaging commentaries and interviews, whilst getting a solid behind the scenes sense of the production.
Presentation: 4 out of 5
The front cover of the Blu-ray package replicates the poster artwork used to advertise the film and perfectly captures the sense of mystery and unsettling terror that permeates throughout the narrative. The menus are easy to follow but do not really stand out as anything out of the ordinary.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Once in a while a British film comes along that all audiences should see… Kill List is currently that film. Studiocanal’s Blu-ray release is a stellar effort, but an imperfect HD print means it’s not quite perfect. However, the solid collection of bonus material also bolsters the disc and along with the remarkable nature of the film itself, makes this disc worth owning!
Kill List is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
This article was first posted on January 1, 2012