If you go down to the sewers today.
The British film industry is like a third world country in thrall of Global consumerism in more ways then one. It feels like we have all the natural resources, Over the years we've had directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Michael Powell and Christopher Nolan, and more incredible actors then you could even begin to name. Yet all that raw talent seems to exist to be shipped off, while nations with less resources and less raw materials continue to outperform us. And we're left with the crumbs. It's why films like The Kill List are so important in a way, regardless of how good they are. We barely get anything and when we do, they are often so underwhelming and formulaic. So I want to preface the review with how happy I am that this film got the release that it did, and it's success is something that can only be good for everybody in the long term.
Having said that, this isn't going to be an entirely positive review. Director Ben Wheatley clearly has talent. Particularly behind the camera, as The Kill List is a terrifically tense, unrelenting experience. He clearly too has a great amenity for the build, and viewed solely by the emotional journey it takes you on, The Kill List plays like a brutal, stark descent into madness pretty convincingly. The two lead performances from Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley are terrific, particularly the former, who is asked to do a lot of changing very quickly. No, the moment the credits began to roll I was pretty happy, thinking I'd seen the Best British movie since Fish Tank. But then I began to think about it, and I realized that upon closer inspection, the writing for this movie was kind of awful/non-existent.
It seemed like there were a number of things they wanted to shoot, they wanted hitmen, they wanted the wicker man, they wanted a David Lynch/Donnie Darko tone where everything felt just to the right of real. But what they didn't want was to do the work to figure out how to make it all cohere and work organically, instead of just changing the gears whenever it felt like it, damn the consequences. The movie is built around what they wanted to shoot, as opposed to what best served the story and the characters. I'm not even the guy who gets offended when movies don't make sense, and I do think there can be a great movie that doesn't have a lick of logic to it. But the problem was The Kill List wasn't quite good enough at papering over the cracks, and it meant that I kept being jarred out of what was otherwise a terrific experience.
For example, I think every movie is entitled to one 'Because it does/is' answer to a plot point question, and in a way the better the movie around it is, the more of these it can get away with and The Kill List is probably a good enough movie to excuse 5, even ten of these. But there are just dozens. And at a certain point that becomes lazy, using mystery and ambiguity as a crutch and not thinking anything through. But I think the average viewer won;t have this complaint, I always look for great writing in movies and some people don't. Some people just want to be taken on a ride, and in that sense The Kill List is absolutely fantastic, a cripplingly tense experience from start to end, and one hell of a calling card for Wheatley who can go on to make stronger and better movies of the back of this.
I think the best way to look at this is to compare it to Following. Not to say that this guy is as good as Nolan, or that he isn't. But this feels very much like a director trying a number of different things to figure out what he's good at. Following was a rough around the edges film that sowed the roots of a director finding and developing a fantastically striking voice. The Kill List could function in a very similar way. Here's what I can do, now give me the money to do something better. I for one am very excited to see what he does next. Maybe hire another writer though, hey.