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Kill List (2012)
Movie Reviews

Kill List (2012)

Bizarre, unfocused, and deeply unpleasant; like watching scenes from two separate movies fighting for the same space.

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A monkey wrench is thrown into the plot of Kill List very early on. It’s a scene in which a woman, who up until now we believed was merely a regular person, carves a satanic symbol into the backside of a mirror hanging in her friends’ bathroom. For the next hour, we follow a plot that shows little if any connection to this scene. When you spend all your mental energy trying to formulate some kind of explanation, you’re liable to have a hard time concentrating on what else is happening. We then arrive at the last act, at which point an entire cult has found a way in. It’s pretty much what you expect it to be; a large group of people wearing straw masks and carrying torches slowly march through the woods in the middle of the night. Some are in white robes. Others are completely naked. Others still have a band of thorns wrapped around their eyes.

They pave the way for a final scene that’s not only reprehensible but is also structurally, thematically, and characteristically impossible. Absolutely nothing had been leading to this particular moment. In that sense, you can say the ending “works”; it was successful in its efforts to be outrageous and disturbing. I, for one, believe that being shocking strictly for the sake of being shocking is offensive, gratuitous, and pointless. Is there something I’m missing, here? Or am I another one of those annoying killjoys that wouldn’t know a good thriller even if it came up and bit me? There’s evidence to support the latter. I am, after all, the guy who included A Serbian Film and both Human Centipede films on my worst-of-the-year lists. Needless to say, I’m undesirable in some circles.

Kill List is bizarre, unfocused, and deeply unpleasant. It utilizes two very different genres – a crime thriller and supernatural horror – and yet at no point do they successfully combine into a cohesive whole. It’s a little like watching scenes from two separate movies fighting for the same space. More time is spent on the crime portion, which would have been fine if only the filmmakers had mustered up enough of a plot to engage us with. Much of the middle section is comprised of hit killings so relentlessly violent that even Martin Scorsese would think they were over the top. The rest of the film is spent on awkward character development, made worse by dialogue that’s rarely loud enough for us to hear. I don’t place much blame on the actors. It seems more an issue of sound mixing; the lows are too low and the highs are too high. You know something is wrong when one minute you’re leaning forward straining the listen and the next you’re covering your ears so that they don’t bleed.

But before we even get to the parts dealing with hit killings, we must first endure scene after scene of a man named Jay (Neil Maskell) fighting with his Swedish wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring). He has a set of lungs on him, and she takes her frustrations out on him physically, always pounding on his chest with her fists. All their fights are intercut with shots of them making up or otherwise acting neutral, confusing matters even further. Caught in the middle is their young son, Sam (Harry Simpson). Also drawn in are Sam’s friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), and his girlfriend, Fiona (Emma Fryer). We first see them at a dinner party hosted by Jay and Shel. We think the evening ends when Jay furiously pulls the table cloth out from under everyone’s plate, but no; not long after, all four of them are laughing it off over glasses of wine. Are these people manic depressives?

The setup is easy enough to understand. Jay was at one time a soldier. He then made the transition to contract killing and stayed with it until a mission in Kiev went horribly wrong. Eight months have passed, and he’s desperately low on cash, which frequently incurs the wrath of Shel. Gal, who also happens to be Jay’s partner, comes to him with an assignment for three killings. There will, of course, be a substantial payoff, although the client insists on sealing the deal by slitting his own palm as well as Jay’s. Off go Jay and Gal. The first two hits comprise more time than is needed and are excessive in their brutality. It’s not like it is in a teen slasher film, where gore tends to be camped up for laughs – these people are seriously getting their brains blown out, and their kneecaps smashed with a hammer, and their faces beaten to bloody pulps against a wall.

It doesn’t take long for the plot of Kill List to run completely off the rails. We will see the mysterious remains of some poor animal on Jay’s lawn, Jay actually cooking the meat and eating it to prove a point, a cat that has been slaughtered and left hanging outside Jay’s front door, and a woman who hangs herself, apparently as a sacrificial offering. The people who watch this happen will applaud. All this time, we’re still pondering the meaning of that satanic symbol and why it was placed on the back of that mirror to begin with. The ending is of absolutely no help in this regard. In fact, the only thing the ending manages to do is confuse and offend. Was that the point of this movie? I guess some filmmakers prefer messing with their audiences to actual storytelling. I don’t really what the case is, here. What I do know is that I hated this movie.

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi