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August 20, 2012

Movies You Missed 52: Kill List

Kill-listThis week in movies you missed: To celebrate a full year of movies we missed, here's a film that will throw you for a loop.

What You Missed

Do not let anyone spoil you for Kill List. If a friend says, "It's just like that old cult classic, you know, the one that was remade with—" immediately cover your ears and do the "La la la, not listening."

What you can know going in: Jay (Neil Maskell) has the round face and twitchy mannerisms of a small boy, and that's how his hard-as-nails Swedish wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring, pictured), treats him. They live in suburban affluence, but he hasn't been working for months, and she's nagging him about getting back on the horse.

The acrimony spills over into a wine-soaked dinner party with Jay's old army buddy, Gal (Michael Smiley), and his aloof new girlfriend (Emma Fryer), till Gal reveals that he has a job for Jay. That's when we learn that Jay and Gal are hitmen.

Their new "kill list" has just three names on it. But there's something off about these victims. As Jay dispatches them, sometimes more brutally than is technically necessary, they thank him. And things keep getting stranger.

Why You Missed It

The indie/foreign films that do well in Vermont theaters tend to be nonviolent and aimed at an older crowd. Off-putting horror movies, not so much. That could be why we didn't see this UK import. Widest U.S. release: 10 theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

When you see a movie called Drive, do you need it to be about car chases? If so, steer clear of Kill List. The second film from director Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace) is one of those oddities that spits on genre boundaries and keeps the audience guessing about what kind of movie it actually is.

It starts out like a domestic drama, with Maskell and Buring as your standard bossy wife and whiny manchild combo. Much of the dialogue is improvised, and they feel like real people, not horror-movie caricatures.

Still, what's with all the scary music? When the family cat leaves rabbit entrails on the front lawn, why does Jay scoop them up, fry them and eat them? (Ewwwww.)

Then things get violent. Disturbingly violent, at a time when most movie violence is just bloodless choreography. Kill List is unrated, but you'll need a strong stomach for one brief scene.

In an interview included on the disc, Wheatley says he wanted to subvert the popular trope of "the hitman as folk hero." So he reminds us what hitmen do, and what kind of mentality it helps to have if you're going to kill for a living. Maskell is equally convincing as a likable, goofy suburban dad and ... something creepier. His wife isn't quite what she seems, either.

Throughout the movie, Wheatley keeps us anxious and off-kilter with jumpy editing, clever sound design and that insistent ominous music. All that foreshadowing pays off ... sort of. You could probably argue with your friends (or on the Internet) all night about whether it pays off.

Verdict: Kill List may leave you saying, "WTF, seriously?" and wondering if it's really as deep as Wheatley seems to think it is. But it earns its WTF.

Imagine M. Night Shyamalan making a hard-R flick without a smidgen of sentimentality, only weirder, and you know whether you want to see this.

A tip: The captions are your friend when watching Kill List if you aren't good with mumbling and strong accents.

More New Releases You May Have Missed

  • Falling Overnight
  • A Girl Walks Into a Bar (ensemble drama with Carla Gugino and Zachary Quinto)
  • Hick (Chloe Grace Moretz is a runaway teen, and Blake Lively is "a cocaine-snorting drifter on the run.")
  • Leave It on the Floor (musical inspired by the Paris Is Burning subculture)
  • The Raid: Redemption (action, action, more action from Indonesia)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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