Occasionally along comes a film that is so far from your expectations of what it is going in that afterwards you can’t help but feel disorientated. When this turns out to be the director’s prime intention the feeling is compounded. Welcome to Kill List, for me probably the most interesting film of the year by a significant margin. Be warned however, you won’t enjoy your stay.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine film – and one that I want to see again – however I couldn’t describe it as an enjoyable experience. I emerged after its brisk ninety minute running time feeling drained and confused. It pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in cinema to the limit (if you don’t normally do so, read the Extended Information on the BBFC website before viewing – not since Antichrist has a warning of what to expect been needed), but never feels as if it’s being exploitative. Indeed, sitting thinking about it now the extreme violence (whilst off putting) had no where near the same effect on me as a sound towards the end of the film. That’s what’s stayed with me. That’s what stopped me sleeping for a good chunk of last night.
Make no mistake, Kill List is a genuine horror film.
Even in the mundane beginnings of the film it’s never a comfortable watch. An extended dinner party introduces the principal characters, down on his luck Jay – the principal focus of the film, Shel – his wife and Gal – his partner in crime. We know whatever has happened in the past has had a profound effect upon Jay’s ability to function as a human being. Gal and his would-be girlfriend come to their home in the midst of a fracturing marriage and attend the dinner party from hell. It’s at once blackly funny and incredibly difficult to watch, the threat of violence forever bubbling beneath the vicious barbs being thrown around. Jay and Shel are like that one couple that everyone knows, forever arguing but needing each other to keep sane. It all feels like an uncomfortable Mike Leigh film, albeit one that exchanges the threat of violence for the threat of social upheaval.
Gal has a job proposition for Jay, a simple contract for an unnamed man who needs three people killed. The mundane fashion in which they go about their work increases the tension as they check into a series of faceless motorway hotels. Here the film moves into its second genre – crime thriller and in some ways the easiest part of the film to watch. A scene involving a group of born-again Christians punctuates the bleak narrative but hints at what is to come and how far from normality the principal character has gone. Looking back, this is a critical point in the film, although the black comedy of the moment hides it as something else. All of this comes before the film changes gear into its third phase.
Entitled simply “The Librarian”, the third act begins with the investigation into the second target. The discovery of a lock up and its contents (never shown except for the reactions on the viewers faces) leads them off-piste and into a greater cycle of violence. It’s here that the starkest warning of what is to come occurs as a claw hammer is employed to enact a form of justice. Suffice to say, not everything is what it seems and the film takes another twist into a different genre altogether. I don’t want to say where the film goes (it would certainly spoil things), however come the end all of the pieces fit together (although new questions are asked) in a manner which could not have been predicted at the beginning.
What isn’t a spoiler is that these final twenty minutes are genuinely terrifying in their unexpectedness and relentless nature. The film that most comes to mind in describing them is “The Descent”, however where there the final twenty minutes almost were a blessed relief after what had come before, here they take the film even further into the realms of the nigh unwatchable. This isn’t a film that offers a cosy respite or the possibility of a happy ending, we know everything won’t be alright, but we want to see why.
Can I recommend it? Yes, but with the same caveat I gave Antichrist – you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for before you commit to it. I saw it with a crowd that could be described as a fifty split of hardcore horror / arthouse junkies and whilst nobody got up and left there wasn’t a single member of the audience who didn’t flinch during certain sections. For my money it’s the bravest, most original British film for years – however unlike The Kings Speech or Tinker Tailor, don’t feel you’re doing your patriotic duty by taking Granny along.
Highly recommended, but please be warned.