Friday, November 15, 2013

Masculinity and Madness

KILL LIST (2011)

The final third of KILL LIST descents into a WICKER MAN-like nightmare, with a climactic nod to A SERBIAN FILM.

IRAQ War veteran Jay (Neil Maskell)'s mood swings and unemployment are causing frictions with wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and disrupting their connection to seven-year-old son Sam (Harry Simpson). After a dinner party with fellow vet Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) is also disrupted by an argument, Gal invites Jay to renew their partnership as professional hitmen. Made to sign a contract in blood, the duo are given three targets by a strange syndicate: a priest who may or may not have links to paedophilia, a librarian with a stash of violent videos, and an MP who lives in a secluded mansion. After Gal is fatally stabbed by one of many pagan celebrants near the mansion, Jay is forced into a knife fight with a masked 'hunchback', which ends with him being crowned by the cultists.

This visceral genre-bending crime-horror, shot around Sheffield, is the second feature from writer/director Ben Wheatley after 2009's DOWN TERRACEThe reactions and strange dialogue by people on the 'kill list', together with a bizarre visit to the doctors, enhance Jay's - and the viewer's - disorientation (the priest even thanks his executioners). We share the lead's emotional roller-coaster because the kitchen sink naturalism draws you to the characters before the brutality feeds in. Shel is trying to hold her family together despite financial worries and Jay's confrontational demeanour, while Jay struggles to control his psychotic episodes (possibly a post-traumatic stress disorder related from his tour, or mental scars from a 'job' in Kiev, details of which are never fleshed out). A conclusion that the hitmen have been victims of an entrapment conspiracy at the hands of the mysterious Client (Struan Rodger) still cannot explain all of the narrative ambiguities, especially when the latter refers to the act of "reconstruction."

Lambs to the slaughter: Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell play hitmen haunted by the past in this surreal offering.

KILL LIST is an artfully constructed shocker with strong performances and violence which is so jarring because of these convictions. The film also explores Wheatley's preference for a sinister Old England, a metaphysical existence where the landscape has a deep-rooted characteristic for bad vibes (a notion further explored in his next film SIGHTSEERS, and taken to its zenith with the extraordinary A FIELD IN ENGLAND). The filmmaker is arguably the greatest British talent to emerge since Ken Russell or Lindsay Anderson, an audacious creative force which produces works that defy any fixed categorisation. Next up for Wheatley are the first two episodes of Peter Capaldi's DOCTOR WHO tenure, and a film adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel HIGH-RISE, which offers him an urban setting to warp the human psyche.