Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kill List (dir. Ben Wheatley)

Jay and Shel are having marital troubles. He's a former soldier clearly wrestling with what he has seen and done in service of his country, and can't seem to resolve his myriad emotional or financial issues. They have a son, who he loves unconditionally. They have friends who they get together with regularly - Gal and his girlfriend Fiona. And then Gal offers Jay a job. And then it turns out Jay and Gal have guns. And Shel is setting up lodging for them. And they're meeting with shady businessmen who give them a list.

There are a lot of films that purport to be "nightmarish," but few that truly capture the slippery horror of a true nightmare. The thing is that nightmares don't offer the release granted by most horror films; the release only comes when you wake up. But sometimes it doesn't even come then. Sometimes you remain so affected by this feeling of being gradually pushed towards more and more horrific imagery and acts that you're in a bit of a daze for a few hours, sometimes the rest of the day. You can't imagine how anything you saw could have been put in front of you, or how you got from one moment to the next, although the feeling that it's all part of a larger whole is undeniable.

So Kill List is kind of like that. Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley's initial talent is evident in how he barely teases at his protagonist's circumstances, only fully divulging information a few minutes after you kind of have it figured out for yourself. It sounds like a feeling of redundancy would set it, but the result is quite different - it feels more like a confirmation and a deepening of some horrible truth you'd always suspected, but could never prove. Or want to prove. But what's really rough about the film is that Jay's mental problems are only what get him and Gal into the horror that will follow. And I can't totally shake the outside force that they start to encounter, or how Wheatley unleashes it.

Wheatley's third act is almost unbearably terrifying, and as repulsed and shocked as you may have been at the violence that preceded it, he assures you that a greater menace always lurks somewhere. His camerawork becomes at once assaultive and elliptical, giving you enough of a glimpse of the terror without letting you see enough of it to understand. And his sound design...oh, those sounds. As viscerally, aurally threatening as nails on a blackboard, but without the playful nature. If one can imagine such a thing.

Dense, unsettling, and suffocating, Kill List is a true nightmare, but all the more indispensable for it.

Kill List opens Friday, February 3rd at Cinefamily in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York. I don't have information on further release dates in other cities, but hang in there, folks - this is really worth seeing with an unsuspecting audience.

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