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March 26, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review: The Kill

When a film gets a reputation for being ‘weird’, it’s easy for people to write it off as that. Being presented with images and narratives that don’t conform to the accepted rules of filmmaking and storytelling can be an alienating experience for the average filmgoer. The rug is under their feet for a reason—it’s comfortable and it’s familiar. Rip it out from under them and it’s understandable that they’re too preoccupied with the fact that you just ripped it out from under them to ask why that happened.

Kill List, the latest offering from promising British filmmaker Ben Wheatley, is quite happy to be the dick who makes you fall on your arse with no explanation, but it’d be doing a disservice to an incredible film to not pursue that explanation, to simply walk away stunned.

Opening with a pair of incongruent images—an eerie occult symbol, followed by a domestic argument filmed in the classic semi-verite style favourite of many contemporary British kitchen sink directors—Kill List follows a short- tempered ex-soldier named Jay, who reluctantly returns to his old day job of contract killer as an answer to dwindling savings and a strained relationship with his Swedish wife. However, the job takes on an unnerving quality when his marks start acting like they know him, thanking him for killing them, only adding to Jay’s frustration and confusion.

At its heart, Kill List is a nuanced and sensitive portrayal of the effects of war on the human psyche. Jay’s inability to adapt to a post-conflict environment manifests itself in confronting, honest ways (a dinner party that goes sour when Jay starts mumbling about wanting to return to the ‘good old days’ is painful to watch, in the best possible way). This nuance continues well into the genre- inflected material, with Jay’s frayed temper and tendency to express his confusion through violence illuminating exactly how difficult it is for Jay to adapt to a world that demands he change the ways he learned on the battlefield, without actually doing anything to help him.

The film’s turn into less-than- conventional territory works because of this intelligence and this sensitivity; Wheatley’s direction is incredibly assured, disorienting without being alienating. Neil Maskell plays Jay superbly as a ticking time bomb, his anger building, with the narrative, to the inevitable point of no return. It’s a shockingly powerful performance in a shockingly powerful film, and it deserves more than its straight-to-DVD run (not to mention the reviews claiming it was little more than a clever genre mash-up).

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