Thursday Editor’s Pick: Kill List (2011)

by on October 21, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Thurs Oct 27 at 9:15 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]


British director Ben Wheatley’s genre-crosser opens the fifth installment of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Scary Movies series, which runs through Halloween. Originally curated by Laura Kern and Gavin Smith, it’s always worth checking out.


Nick Hasted for The Arts Desk:

Ben Wheatley’s debut Down Terrace, about a Brighton crime family whose bickering resembles Abigail’s Party, then Macbeth, had almost no budget and was literally home-made. Many critics still realised that it was one of the best and most original films of 2010. With its cult success repeated in the US, Wheatley has quickly followed it with the most assured and troubling British horror film in many years. Kill List confirms his promise while pinning you to your seat with scenes of cold nightmare.



Phillip French in The Guardian:

Like Down TerraceKill List is an edgy, mysterious thriller that begins in one generic mode and jumps, or modulates, into another. The latest, rather disappointing deployment of this form is Cowboys & Aliens, which starts out as a western before being transformed into a horror picture. Earlier ones include Michael Mann’s The Keep, a second world war movie that becomes a horror flick when an SS unit encounters evil forces from the distant past in a remote Romanian castle; and John McTiernan’s Predator, where a punitive US expedition in a Latin American jungle is turned into a fight for survival when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special forces platoon is stalked by an extraterrestrial monster. But once horror has been embraced there is no turning back.



Jonathan Romney in The Independent:

Kill List is a sort of crime thriller that mutates into nightmare story. But before that, Wheatley and writing partner/co-editor Amy Jump convince us that we’re in familiar kitchen-sink land. The film begins with a row between a suburban married couple, Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring), about the finances that he has squandered on a jacuzzi. We’re in the grip of bitter domestic psychodrama, as the couple taunt each other in oppressive close-up, with their young son looking on. The evening continues with the arrival of Jay’s old friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). Dinner doesn’t go well – it’s steeped in Pinterish unease, all gaffes and muttered recriminations.


Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian:

It often looks like a film by Lynne Ramsay or even Lucrecia Martel, composed in a dreamily unhurried arthouse-realist style that is concerned to capture texture, mood and moment. The long expository scene looks like the beginning of a downbeat, miserablist film whose only object is to tell the story of a married man attempting to recover from depression through rebuilding friendship and re-entering the world of work. And in some sense this could be what Kill List is. But the drifting scenes of ordinariness are especially disquieting, both while they are happening and in retrospect, after the nightmarish situation has begun to reveal itself, and after the brutal explosion of violence.



Tim Robey in The Telegraph:

Wheatley’s brand of cringe-makingly exact suburban observation has been justly equated with Mike Leigh’s, but he also knows how to set us up for something more unexpected. The only clue we get is the scene at said dinner where Gal’s slightly peculiar girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) goes to the bathroom and carves a rune on the back of the mirror. It’s an incredibly shivery moment, and for a full hour we don’t know what it portends – how to plant an undefined anxiety in your audience, and leave it to grow.


Tom Huddleston for Time Out London:

It’s hard to remember a British movie as nerve-shreddingly effective since ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ in 2004. Like that film, ‘Kill List’ may not make the impact it deserves upon initial release. But this is a grower, a film which lingers long in the memory: look for it on ‘Best of British’ lists for a long time to come.



And director Ben Wheatley, in an interview with Time Out London:

I hate exposition so I just cut all that shit out. Fundamentally, I just wanted it to be really scary. Much of it was strung together from nightmares I had as a kid, recurring dreams of being chased. That was the inspiration for the last half of the film. ‘The first half is more domestic horror: hearing your parents arguing, being in an argument, that sense of things falling apart. Feeling the adrenaline rise and then dip, if you don’t get your point across or the argument goes badly. You feel helpless, but then you go back for more. I wanted to ride those feelings. You see it in Cassavetes, in Alan Clarke, in Scorsese, especially Joe Pesci’s big scene in “Goodfellas.”



– Compiled by Tom McCormack

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