British director Ben Wheatley really wants us to know crime doesn’t pay. Nor does it lead to anything remotely stylish, hip or cool.
Wheatley’s wonderful debut feature, “Down Terrace,” stripped away the glamorous trappings of criminal activity.
Now, with “Kill List,” available tomorrow on Blu-ray and DVD, the director once more traffics in illegality by showing us the mundane side of criminals on and off duty.
Here’s a hint: they fight with their spouses and have some serious anger control issues between assignments.
Wheatley’s ambitions outstrip his recurring cultural critiques in his sophomore effort. “Kill List” takes a horrific turn in the final act, one which cobbles together snippets of several genre films without importing their inner logic. To be blunt, “Kill List’s” ending is a head scratcher, but not the kind that leaves audiences applauding the minds behind the mayhem.
Between the modest domestic disputes and that troublesome finale lurk some disturbing violent images that could shock even genre loyalists.
Former soldier Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) are having money problems, and it doesn’t help that his lit fuse can be a terrifying thing to witness. So when Jay’s bud Gal (Michael Smiley) offers him a lucrative deal to use his killing instincts one more time, he lunges at the chance.
Jay needs the cash as well as the emotional outlet being a contract killer supplies. No, this isn’t a hit man conflicted by his conscience. He rather likes punishing people.
This particular case feels different, though. It could be the dead animals that keep showing up on Jay’s property, or the curious reactions his victims offer in their final seconds alive.
“Kill List” is in no hurry to explain away the inconsistencies, but as soon as we start putting the puzzle pieces together the nagging questions become a burden. Those final moments are sadly reminiscent of “The Last Exorcism,” another dutifully crafted thriller with a final act that felt both forced and unearned. What we’re left with is a slapdash finale that steals from a few other movies without adding any thing novel to the blend.
So many of the prior details in “Kill List” feel as prickly as a thriller of this sort demands. Shel’s beauty hides a danger that Buring suggests, making her more than just the unlikely mate of a first-rate thug. The bond between Jay and Gal skirts such trivialities as law, order and all manner of decency. Maskell hardly looks like a killer. He has a round face that might more easily be used in a less tragic setting.
“Kill List” is maddening and invigorating, sometimes within the span of a few screen minutes.
The Blu-ray extras include commentaries from Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump, plus chats from actors Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley. We also get a “Making of” featurette mimicking the eerie tone found in the film, a narration-free affair with snippets showing how certain blood-soaked scenes came to be. The extra dubbed “Featurette” is a more conventional look at how the film was made, letting Wheatley expand on the use of violence in his projects.
“I wanted to depict violence in a realistic way where it cannot be laughed off or seen as glib,” he says.
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