I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Hey everybody: explain to me what I’m missing about KILL LIST

tn_killlistI’ve been hearing about this genre-smooshing British crime thriller for a while now. Mostly from Paul, but it’s gotten great reviews all over the place. I did the right thing and didn’t read anything about it or watch a trailer or even know what the other movie by the same director is about. I just waited until I could rent an import DVD of it and check it out.

As you can tell by the title of this post I wasn’t too impressed. Didn’t hate it or anything, but honestly can’t understand why so many people are excited about it. This puts me in a hard position as a reviewer with a vow of excellence because

1) I can’t really get into the plot or even the genre without giving away twists that other people seem to like
2) I don’t want to come off like some dick trying to prove he’s above it all by being ho-hum about a movie other people think is amazing
3) I don’t feel like I have any real blinding insights into the movie, or even strong reactions to what I liked or didn’t like in it
4) To be honest I kinda forgot most of it shortly after viewing

4b) admitting that makes me guilty of #2

So my original plan was to take the coward’s way out and not review it at all, but people keep contacting me in email and comments to recommending it to me and I know that’ll continue for a while so I figured I might as well address it. This is not really a review, but a spoiler-laden fact-finding inquiry type deal where you can help me understand why you all love this thing and I don’t.

mp_killlistWhat I loved about KILL LIST: that it brings joy into your lives. I care about you guys. Other than that nothing comes to mind.

What I liked about it: the slow start and gradually dropped clues are pretty cool. I think the cover of the DVD already told me it had to do with hitmen, so there’s no surprise there, but I still respect the way it sort of pretends to be a family drama before revealing what the guy’s line of work is. It’s all shot and acted in a very plain sort of way in a bland looking setting, nobody is really cool looking or anything so it has kind of a raw, real world feel. In that sense it kind of reminded me of that Paddy Considine revenge movie DEAD MAN’S SHOES, although I liked that one a little better I think.

I like that it takes time for characters, like when they’re having dinner and that one bitch is talking about firing people, and you compare it to these guys that obviously shoot people for a living. And they seem to have a real friendship, the other guy trying to look out for the main guy. The marriage trouble is treated more seriously than in many genre films. They seem to be ready to kill each other and then after some wine and a night with some friends they’re laughing and cuddling. Very true to life.

I like the odd little occurrences more than the plot itself. The scene where the guy flips out on the Christian guy for playing guitar in a restaurant. I liked that because the guy was obviously harmless but also, I mean come on, don’t fuckin play a guitar in a restaurant. Also not on a bus. No drums either.

I sort of liked the random craziness of the guy cooking and eating something that his cat killed and left in the yard, but then when you realize that he had to eat it as part of the cult ritual the scene becomes completely ludicrous. I mean, they got real fuckin lucky that he happened to do that completely out-of-the-blue unpredictable thing, let’s put it that way.

I always enjoy a good killers-planning-their-hits yarn, but KILL LIST is not exactly putting in a strong effort in that department. I prefer more elaborate plans and preparations and more exciting set-piece type assassinations like in THE MECHANIC (Bronson), HIT!, MUNICH, even KILLER ELITE (Statham). Maybe that was the point, to make the murders not glamourous, but come on man. Killing is bad. This is not new information to me. Don’t give me this Gladiator “ARE YOU ENTERTAINED?” shit, ’cause the answer is “No, not that much.” You can do better.

The big twist in the movie is that their mysterious employer is actually a cult, but it’s not like a big gasp! type revelation because they’ve been hinting at it since near the beginning when whatsername carved an occult symbol into the back of the dude’s mirror. I guess I respect their dedication to a weird concept but personally I didn’t think it was a cool idea at all. Yeah, sure, it’s like THE WICKER MAN, but THE WICKER MAN created a whole world on that island, a weird vibe with all these people and their music and dances and Christopher Lee and the way they treat this uptight virgin as they slowly circle in for the kill. You can’t get the same effect just by having some assholes in robes walk around with some torches. They come off as standard issue satanists, it’s not as creepy.

Is it a cultural difference? Is there something in Britain’s religious background where you actually do fear pagans? Or is it just a reference to THE WICKER MAN because THE WICKER MAN is a cool movie? I don’t really know. Or maybe it’s just me, that I don’t fear pagans. Scary-cult movies (like ghost and possession movies) have never really been a favorite subgenre for me. Those aren’t things my psyche knows how to get too worked up about. It prefers the honest scare of a sharp object coming at me, I guess.

I like timely political themes in horror movies and they’re definitely doing that here. The protagonists are Afghanistan veterans, that seems to have messed them up, both making them violent and making them want to sit around the house all day doing nothing. The economy is fucked up and that’s why they need to murder people. I heard that some people who love it see it as some kind of commentary about British foreign policy, but I guess I didn’t pick up on whatever it’s saying about that.

It’s kind of a puzzle movie, there are lots of unexplained things that probly fit in if you go back and watch it again, but I didn’t really enjoy the initial viewing enough to want to go back and sit through it again to look for those things.

Sorry man, I’m trying to list the things I liked, but I kind of feel like I read a buddy’s only-okay essay and I’m trying extra hard to come up with compliments. I’ve heard this is a real love it or hate it movie, but I can’t figure out why anybody would bother to do either one. I’m gonna become a middletarian, which is like a contrarian but only on movies people say are “love it or hate it” and only by not loving or hating it.

What am I missing?

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

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60 Responses to “Hey everybody: explain to me what I’m missing about KILL LIST”

  1. But you can dodge a sharp object. How are you going to escape Samara in The Ring when she can just crawl out of any television and jump-cut towards your ass?

  2. Nah, you’re not alone. I read that this was the best British film of last year so set aside an evening to dedicate to it. My reaction as the credits rolled was ‘Huh’. Or it might have been ‘Ah’. One of the two.

    My main problem with it was the shocking ending which should totally not be spoilered was only a shocking ending which should totally not be spoilered as long as you’ve never seen a certain other film starring a certain actor who once played The equalizer visiting a certain island. The punchline of that film is just too iconic to emulate without reminding people of the original. I suspect that it may be more a case of reviewers getting excited (‘Yippee, England has managed to make a film of acceptable quality. Let’s heap praise on it’) and audiences buying into it. There were some okay shocks (I’m getting a bit queasy when it comes to murder by hammer) but this occult business was already lame back when it was the plot of Hot Fuzz. And yet again… Hitmen! I’ve met a total of one guy in London who says he knew a hitman and I suspect he may have been telling porky pies (lies). From our films you’d swear we were a nation of hitmen with nobody left to hit.

    My tip: Check out a film called A Lonely Place To Die that came out last year. That had some more effective shocks and action.

  3. As I’ve said on here before, I don’t get the love either. Movie doesn’t make any damn sense, even online nobody really seems to know what the fuck is going on in this story. I did read about certain things being a parallel to political/economic stuff etc. but I don’t care about that when there is no satisfying story. I mean it started out so well with the slow build-up, the fucked up things that kept happening that made you want to find out what it was all about. Then the third act arrives and not a single one of your questions get answered, it’s all a big puddle of non-sensical poop. It’s just frustrating is what it is.

    I can only assume this is what Lost viewers must have felt like after watching the series finale.

  4. I second A Lonely Place to Die – Vern, see if this sells it to you – Blood and Bone’s Eamon Walker as a British mercenary.

  5. Yeah, Kill List didn’t really work for me, either. A lot of build up to absolutely nothing.

    For people who haven’t seen A Lonely Place to Die yet, though, I wouldn’t recommend getting your hopes up about that one, either. It’s not terrible or anything, but it’s basically just a passable DTV thriller that for some reason got a festival release. Go into it with that mindset and you’ll probably get a kick out of it. Maybe.

  6. Sounds like you have the same problem with this movie that I have with Wicker Man. I do not get what people love about that old turkey.

  7. I absolutely love this movie – bought the Blu Ray and everything. No, I can’t explain the ending any more than the next person, but I really found the atmosphere uncomfortable and oppressive (in a good way of course) and find myself thinking about it quite a lot. I totally understand if people hate or are ambivalent about it, it is genuinely that type of film, but it totally does it for me as an interesting, well-acted, blackly funny, scary and violent drama/thriller/horror. I never thought much of Neil Maskell as an actor before this but I find myself looking forwards to what he and Ben Wheatley do in the future.

    It sure kicks the shit out of Attack The Block as far as last years Brit Flicks go.

    Vern – maybe try Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur instead, that’s a dark dark film. And Olivia Colman just blew me away in it, truly she is destined for greatness.

  8. I’ll support Eddie’s point about not getting too excited about A LONELY PLACE TO DIE. It’s one of those modest little movies that does it’s job well without really distinguishing itself, sort of like that Spanish “found footage” film ATROCIOUS. No major mis-steps, but lacking weird sucker punches, like the Hong Kong DREAM HOME, and lacking thematic audacity, like WE ARE WHAT WE ARE.

  9. Whatever you’re missing, you’ve got more of it than I do. I saw the movie cold too, and thought it was unengaging characters doing unpleasant shit with an inadequate sociopolitical overlay and a vague “mystery” that never coalesces into much of anything. My screening was followed by a Q&A where Devin Faraci spun the underwhelmed audience response as the movie “fucking us up”, and the director offered that lots of people dislike the movie at first but the next day they begin to understand it and realize that it actually was quite good. So the official bullshit line on this is that we didn’t like it because it was too tough for us intellectually and emotionally. Riiight.

  10. I love film festivals because they are a great opportunity to watch movies without any previous knowledge or the burden of a internet hype. It’s easy to enjoy a »modest little movie« like A LONELY PLACE TO DIE in this relaxed atmosphere. It’s well made and well worth the time if you’re in the right mood, but it can’t live up to expectations that emerge from some exaggerating reviews. It’s not that great. But barely any movie is that great.

    At least for me it’s really hard to blank out all the stuff you read, hear, watch and observe when a movie is released. I often think something like »What am I missing?« and I hate it.

    I had some of the best moviegoing experiences by watching movies I’ve never heard before or didn’t want to see in the first place, because I was really open minded. Last year for example I had a blast with JANE EYRE or THE INNKEEPER’S, two films I wouldn’t have watched had I seen the terrible trailers.

  11. The movie is actually called THE INNKEEPERS.

  12. “I mean come on, don’t fuckin play a guitar in a restaurant. Also not on a bus.”
    Or on a train platform
    http://youtu.be/sNIxjewSh-U
    Although, that’s actually a ukulele, damn his loophole!

  13. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 16th, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    The ironic thing is that I spoiled Vern’s review in a previous thread when I said he wasn’t excited by “Kill List”. Sorry. Although at the time I don’t think he’d made up his mind whether he’d review it or not.

    Let me state here and now that the ending of this movie bugs me. It didn’t during the movie, but thinking about it afterwards, it did. I wish they’d gone in a different direction to what, as Vern correctly points out, is a pretty well-trodden and generic direction for British horror movies to take.

    That said… is this the best movie I’ve seen of the last few years? Nope, although it might have been if they’d kept it as a character study of a guy who is both a family man and a natural and instinctive killer.

    It is, however, probably the movie that I’ve enjoyed the most out of the last – three or four years, at least. Probably longer. Possibly ever. I’d have to think about that one. There are movies, like “The Terminator”, “Jurassic Park”, etc, that I can watch and enjoy despite the fact that I’ve seen them a ridiculous number of times already. I doubt I’ll watch “Kill List” more than two or three times. Hell, I’ve only watched “Lost in Translation” three times, total. But a large part of that is because I love that movie so much, I do not want to watch it to the point where I start picking flaws in it.

    “Kill List” is not as good as “Lost in Translation”. But holy shit, is it uncompromising. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a movie that pulls no punches as effectively as “Kill List” does.

    This to me is the anti-“Mission: Impossible 3”. A movie that was so bland, boring, generic, that with the exception of the opening scene I can’t think of a single thing it added to my understanding of film, life, or even just the “Mission: Impossible” universe (if there can be said to be such a thing when even Ethan Hunt is a noticeably different character in each of the four movies). That movie wasted tens of millions of dollars and several big-name actors who are all great in their own sphere, and did NOTHING with any of them.

    Well… to me… here’s a movie that starred nobody I’d heard of, made by a director I’d never heard of, that I saw without knowing a single thing about it other than it was a “hitman movie” of some kind, that is the most visceral, uncompromising, and what I’d term of as “ambitious” in that it clearly wants to take you places you might not want to go, movie that I’ve ever seen.

    And I fucking loved it. Which is rare, for me. I can think a movie is great – “Inception” is a good example, I know that people have problems with that movie, but by and large they didn’t matter to me – and it still not have the kind of effect on me that “Kill List” did.

    Oh… and on the subject of the ending: “Trollhunter”‘s ending is about a hundred times worse than “Kill List”‘s. Let’s keep some perspective here. The ending was by far the weakest part of “Kill List”, but it doesn’t shit all over the rest of the film like, again, “Trollhunter”‘s does.

  14. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 16th, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Ok, that third paragraph from the end seemed to get away from me a bit, and it’s kinda the one in which I make my main point. Let me rephrase:

    Well… to me… here’s a movie that starred nobody I’d heard of, made by a director I’d never heard of, that I saw without knowing a single thing about it. (Other than it was a “hitman movie” of some kind.) And it’s the most visceral, uncompromising, and what I’d term of as “ambitious” – in that it clearly wants to take you places you might not want to go – movie that I’ve ever seen.

  15. Paul: I don’t get your beef with Trollhunter ending. What works about the film was the atmosphere and the lore, at no point in the film is it a “believable” or “realistic” scenario, so why would holes in the plot (glaring though they might be) make any difference? You get a giant troll at the end. Good ending.

  16. And dude, somebody must really love this movie to place it above the transcendent “Attack the Block”. TRUST.

  17. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 16th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Renfield – I’ve been into this in the “Trollhunter” thread. I really liked that film – I had no problem with the build-up at the start, unlike some others on this forum mentioned here. It’s just the bureaucrat character who appears near the beginning, for no obvious reason. The EXACT MOMENT this character appeared, I knew exactly how the film would end. And I groaned. It’s like seeing a massive wall of shit, coming straight at you, and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

    This isn’t a plot-hole. It’s a plot-destroyer. It’s ridiculously obvious that the Government or the corporations or whoever the hell the bureaucrat was supposed to work for would end up taking the camera and the students would “mysteriously” vanish. I knew it from the first moment the guy appeared on screen, for fuck’s sake. So… no trollpocalypse. No public unveiling of the huge secret, with all of the interesting ramifications of this. Just about every possible interesting thing they could do with this movie beyond the whole “found footage” gimmick is immediately destroyed, instantly, by the appearance of that one character.

    And it doesn’t even make any fucking sense! If the guy is so obsessed with covering up the existence of trolls from the public, why does he allow these guys to film at all? Why not just get rid of them at the start? And why is there only one copy of all these weeks of footage in existence? Don’t they have an editor and the internet, or something? Isn’t this film supposed to take place in contemporary times? What happened to backups? And… oh screw it. Worst ending of any otherwise good film that I can think of. It’s that fucking bad. It’s one of those endings that just ruins the whole film retroactively, except that it’s so obviously what’s going to happen from the very start, it actually manages to ruin the film BEFORE YOU’VE EVEN SEEN HOW IT ENDS. I cannot think of a single other film of which that could be said.

    And yes, “Kill List” is leagues better than “Attack the block”. Which was a very enjoyable film and a very good one. But it’s not close to being in the same league as “Kill List”, for me.

  18. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 16th, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    And I don’t care how “believable” something is, if it makes sense in the context of the world it takes place in. A fat Italian plumber fighting an army of rogue turtles and mushrooms by jumping on them? Fine! A war between two opposing religious orders armed with starships, swords made out of light, and telekinetic powers? Bring it on! I could go on…

    The point is, the ending of “Trollhunter” made no sense in the world the film had created. But besides being incredibly dumb and senseless, it was also incredibly cheap and a complete cop-out. Can you imagine how awesome it could’ve been if the general public had SEEN the found-footage? Just think about some of the scenarios that could’ve played out there. Instead we get the “Government cover-up” option. Because that’s such a daring and not-at-all cliche’d option that has never been done in any film or TV program, ever, before now. FUCK THAT.

    So yeah, anyway… “Kill List”… while the ending bothered me after the film… my point is, let’s keep some proportion here. On the scale of bad endings to good films it’s pretty damn low on the list compared to some others. “Matchstick Men”‘s two years later bit? Sentimental, completely out of tune with the rest of the film, and absolutely worse than “Kill List”. “Drag me to Hell” and the mixed-up envelopes? Predictable, contrived, unbelievable, just about the least interesting thing they could’ve done with the situation they had. I’m sure I could come up with more.

  19. Isn’t “Kill List” just a milder version of “A Serbian Film”?

    And when is Vern going to review THAT? I shall refuse to spoil THAT one. IMMENSELY upsetting.

  20. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun either but I hated KILL LIST. To me it was entirely contrived to leave you with a shocking final image, and if that’s all you got I don’t give you the power to shock me. So pretentious.

    Now I feel bad that I’m so happy I’m not alone on this. I mean I want people to love whatever they want but Ive felt alone on this for a year now and here are others who see through the “mystery.”

    Saw this at sxsw after some buzz tho, not totally cold. I would instead recommend COLD SWEAT (SUDOR FRIO) or THE FP.

  21. Also, the ritual. What was that? I get the Wicker Man’s (sacrifice man to ensure good crops next year), but Kill List’s was… what? Get a guy to do something very bad and then wear a hat. Why? So that he can be King Of The Wicker People, or something? And then what? And if that’s the deal, then why the big set up? Why was Hammered Head guy so grateful to be killed by this chump? I don’t get it.

  22. The last strictly “British” movie I saw was HARRY BROWN.

    I’m not the best guy on this topic.

  23. Speaking of A Lonely PLace to Die, it had the benefit of not turning out exactly how I envisioned it turning out although it does go through the fodder characters like you expect it to. Melissa George is building up quite a list of genre movies in her career, some a little better than others but none are unfortunately complete standouts.

    It’s not a genre piece but I’m going to check out the short series The Slap that has her in it to see what it’s all about.

  24. Gabe, I’m not sure if A Serbian Film is really a “reviewable” film. It’s hard to get past the subject matter. But it will most definitely spark a lively discussion of whether it was effective in conveying the subtext or message the director intended to convey and whether the message was lost in the story itself. Kind of like Sucker Punch.

  25. nabroleon dynamite

    February 17th, 2012 at 8:15 am

    @Gabe. A Serbian Film would be a good review for Vern, after “The Last Circus” of course.

    I didn’t buy “Serbian” because of the quality of the effects among other things, but the movie gets an “A” for audacity!!

  26. I also gave this a shot, cuz there are indeed very good british thrillers out there..but this one lost me ….didnt like it, at all….youre not alone, as you see now….that gave me the idea that I should maybe list a few british films that truly kick ass…and that maybe are not all that well-known….which could be difficult…well..great review in any case…your site rocks…

  27. “Just about every possible interesting thing they could do with this movie beyond the whole “found footage” gimmick is immediately destroyed, instantly, by the appearance of that one character.”

    See, you just had an investment that the movie would go in a particular direction, and you’re taking it for granted that the film should have. The found footage gimmick is just that, a gimmick, an excuse for you to crouch in the troll cave and worry about your Christianity. There’s no reason the movie had to go in that direction to be successful. NONE of these found-footage films deal with the impact of the footage on society at large, and ALL of them fall apart if you start trying to think about that aspect literally. Couldn’t they have simply cut out the few snippets of dialogue that deal with the whole “bringing it public” thing and neutralized your complaint? Now I completely agree that there are a few easily corrected plot holes (could they not have backed up the footage any of the numerous instances where it became clear the government found the footage threatening?), but how you could be so invested in that entirely underdeveloped aspect of the film that you made it your criteria for the film’s success? I personally had no investment whatsoever in whether or not the footage went public, whether or not the Hunter did a riding-into-the-horizon suicide, etc. Whether they chose one cliche or another was clearly inconsequential given that it’s completely unrelated to what worked about the film. I don’t get it.

  28. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 17th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Renfield – I don’t think that saying “you can’t say it should have gone this way or that way, etc, you have to critique which way it DID go” is valid. First off, I hated the way it went, obviously. But secondly… think of all the possible endings they could’ve done with this scenario. Think of everything that could’ve happened. And compare ANY of them, literally any of them, to what actually DID happen.

    I mean… let me quote myself from the “Trollhunter” thread here:

    *

    “This isn’t just predictable. This isn’t just cliche’d. This isn’t just obvious. This isn’t just the exact same ending as half a dozen other films that also did it incredibly badly. This is actually WORSE than “28 Days Later”’s ending. Because say what you want about the squaddies’ general stupidity and Christopher Eccleston’s terrible, terrible acting, at least the basic premise of the ending of that film made sense. “Troll Hunter”’s ending does not.

    Or to put it another way… you remember the bit at the end of “Rogue”? Where the bureaucratic bush-rangers come in and kill all the surviving tourists to stop them from telling people that there are crocodiles in the swamp? No? Of course you don’t. BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T USE THAT ENDING BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE FUCKING SUCKED.”

    *

    The point I’m trying to make here is that there is literally NOTHING they could’ve done with the ending of “Trollhunter” – which was anticipated, or rather spoiled, from VERY early on in the film to anybody who’s ever seen a movie like this before – that would’ve been worse than what they did do. Hell, they could’ve had a giant pink Barney the Dinosaur come in and battle the last troll, it would’ve been a “WTF” moment but it would at least have been an interesting spectacle. What actually happens… no. Just no.

  29. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 17th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Or you know what, Renfield? Just read my review, I think it makes it a helluva lot clearer than I’ve managed to do here about why I hate the ending of this otherwise-pretty-good movie SO MUCH.

    http://outlawvern.com/2011/09/03/trollhunter/#comment-1440685

  30. I wish the ending of Trollhunter had made an impression on me so I could figure out why it makes Paul so mad.

  31. I think it’s good critical practice to suggest alternative things a film could do for sure. Also I’m not one of these “what, you think YOU could have done something better?” assholes. It’s just… you know, most mediocre/pretty good films do end pretty much exactly like you think and it’s usually pretty cliche. I just can’t really relate to your rancor towards this one in particular, I suppose. You bring up your example of Rogue but that doesn’t hit home for me at all. I don’t see why it’s self evident that that would have been a bad ending. I guess I see a fundamental poetic truthfulness to the idea that the government is going to come in and kill you even though it doesn’t make much sense.

  32. Paul, I HAVE read that review, and i did, um, “review” it before continuing our conversation here. This whole government coverup thing… you identify it as being a worn cliche even in The X-Files, the earliest example you cite. Is it because you are virulently pro-government or something? Don’t WAY MORE of these movies end without a government coverup? Like, I dunno, every slasher movie you’ve ever seen? Jaws? The Thing? It seems to me the cliche way to end a monster movie is to have them kill the monster and the heroes escape. Like in Rogue.

    Furthermore, don’t tell me the ending of The Crazies wasn’t fucking brilliant. Every movie I can think of where they bring in the bad government is awesome…Cloverfield, The Host, etc. Trollhunter does it in a pretty weak way, but you take it so much for granted that the idea itself is fundamentally stupid.

  33. “I sort of liked the random craziness of the guy cooking and eating something that his cat killed and left in the yard, but then when you realize that he had to eat it as part of the cult ritual the scene becomes completely ludicrous. I mean, they got real fuckin lucky that he happened to do that completely out-of-the-blue unpredictable thing, let’s put it that way.”

    Where precisely does the movie indicate this? I’ve seen it twice but both times it just registered as him doing something eccentric and foreshadowing of badness to come. Also, I believe the two of them went to Iraq, not Afghanistan.

    Put me in the “love” column. The acting and characterization is so strong at the beginning it’s right out of a Mike Leigh movie, and very few movies in a while have put that much dread in me.

    What kind of bugs me about the complaints about where it ends up is that it’s like THE WICKER MAN is the only movie allowed to have creepy pagans in it. That’s a pretty big chunk of lore to reserve for only one movie’s use, and both the tone and meaning behind KILL LIST’s deployment of it are different. That is, if you get what it means, which I admit I didn’t the first time around. It’s hard to precisely articulate, but my read of it is that more or less a really vitriolic indictment of what’s happened the last 10-15 years, how the Sinister Oligarchic Powers That Be (for whom the cult is just a metaphor) have used the middle and lower classes to do their bloody bidding overseas, without caring a jot for their longterm well-being. It’s framed in specifically British terms (the second to last target pointedly being THE MP) but you could apply it to the US, too, without any straining. The reason the movie’s so vague on the details is Ben Wheatley’s smart enough to know that 1) if he were any more forthcoming he might get accused of being heavy-handed and 2) the immediately comprehensible is rarely all that scary.

    And using A SERBIAN FILM against it is dumb for a few reasons, probably the most prominent of which is that there’s almost no logistical way Ben Wheatley had seen A SERBIAN FILM when he was conceiving of KILL LIST. And even if he had, it wouldn’t change the fact that KILL LIST is a better movie in every single way: acting, characterization, direction, general intelligence level, validity of social commentary. Unless a lack of baby rape is somehow a minus in your book, in which case you might want to keep your book to yourself. There’s a huge gulf in articulacy between “This movie is about how people with political power have devastated the middle class in the first world with senseless wars and ever-widening economic disparity, which to the people being devastated seems like a senseless dread-filled descent into madness” and “IN SERBIA, YOU’RE FUCKED FROM BIRTH!”

  34. “KILL LIST is a better movie [than A Serbian Film] in every single way: acting, characterization, direction, general intelligence level, validity of social commentary.”

    This really is the salient point re: Serbian. People continually fall back on what I believe is a total falsehood: that in spite of disturbing subject matter, it is an effectively wrought picture.

    Consider Human Centipede 2, another film which I think is needlessly cruel to its audience as far as the subject matter goes. It is overwhelmingly clear that Full Sequence is a masterpiece of cinematic prowess by comparison. A Serbian Film puts the viewer in the unfortunate position of having to bend over so far backwards to justify the film’s validity that I have read comments saying that it is shot to look like ineptly produced pornography because that is part of the point. This essentially is admitting that the film has failed to produce a worthwhile vision, and then trying to rationalize that as if it was a metaphor. Look, I know a great many Serbians have been fucked since birth, but does that mean that any terrible movie that the region is intelligently commenting on that fact. If that was the case, Birth of a Nation would be a great film.

  35. *…that the region PRODUCES is intelligently…

  36. I was totally with you until you brought BIRTH OF A NATION in for some reason. The ideological baggage there might be arguably as ugly, in its way, as the content of A SERBIAN FILM, but its historical significance and aesthetic merit are pretty hard to credibly deny. Whereas A SERBIAN FILM has neither of those things going for it.

  37. You know what, you are correct. I didn’t really think it through. Birth may be an ugly film in its perspective, but doesn’t it get credit for actually being the first feature-length narrative film?

  38. Hey y’all. This was probably the most disappointing film of last year for me. So much of its plot is reliant on coincidence and convenience that I could never fully engage with it. And I think for a film like this to work on its own terms it at the very least needs to be a deeply immersive experience, whereas I couldn’t help but feel distanced from it due to my constant questioning of its plot mechanics. I think it’s awesome that so many people dug it but it just did not work for me on any level.

    And there’s something almost self-consciously smug about the entire enterprise as well – this is from an interview the director did with Chud: “There’s two types of viewers for Kill List: the people who come out and say “That makes no fucking sense. I just don’t care.” They never think about it again, and they probably go through life like that. Then the other people come out and they actually think about it. The theory stuff I see on-line is 90% as we intended it. I always knew the audience was intelligent. And fuck you to those who don’t get it. I’ve got a reasonably inquiring mind. If I don’t understand something, I don’t blame the thing. Maybe I need to think about it. You don’t come out of Eraserhead and go, “His head was rubber all along? What the fuck?!” Fucking idiots.”

    I just find some of those statements to be arrogant beyond belief, like the suggestion that if we can’t overlook some of the film’s plot holes and inconsistencies then that is somehow *our* fault and not the film’s and we are actually complete morons, not just as audience members but as human beings as well because his amazing film is so totally unfuckwithable and crystalline and impermeable and we’re just fucking scum. Unless we “got it” in which case we are given a free pass to watch Kill List and Eraserhead as much as we like. I would like to think that I have a reasonably inquiring mind and I also have a healthy ability to suspend disbelief and I didn’t think that Eraserhead’s head was rubber all along and I’m friendly to animals etc but I still think this movie is only half as clever as it thinks it is and non of us guys are half as dumb as it seems to think we are. And bullshit plot conveniences are bullshit plot conveniences – you can’t make them disappear by stripping the narrative of most of its exposition, asking us to fill in the gaps and then chastising us when we run out of crayons before the job is done. You should have bought more crayons, is I guess what I’m trying to say. Or maybe asked us to fill smaller gaps. And labeling a film as “enigmatic” does not give it total narrative impunity. It still has to make sense on its own terms.

    I’m also in the “approach with lowered expectations” camp in regards to A Lonely Place to Die. I actually didn’t like it at all to be honest, and its reliance on overwrought musical cues to sell suspense and tension almost forced me to switch it off, but I guess it goes in a few mildly interesting directions and at the very least it does offer viewers the chance to see (SPOILER) Melissa George being stalked through a pagan street festival by an shotgun-weilding killer wearing a bear mask. I can think of only one or two other movies where that might happen.

    Also, Martha Marcy May Marlene kicked my fucking ass. Great film.

  39. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend paying attention to a goddamn word I have to say where criticisms of Kill List etc are concerned considering that I recently had to admit to myself and others that Quarantine 2 (the dtv sequel to the American remake of the Spanish original) was probably my favorite horror film of 2011. And I watched a fuckin’ bunch of horror films last year.

  40. Okay. Now I think I should check out The Crazies and Quarantine 2.

  41. Jimbolo: I assume the idea is a Golden-Bough kind of thing where he’s simultaneously an honoured king and next year’s sacrifice. The priest king is supposed to be ritually killed by his own successor. But that said, no, it’s really not a very good movie.

  42. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 18th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Renfield and Vern – sorry, my last post came off as a bit asshole-ish. Didn’t mean for it to come across that way.

    And I can’t say anything about “Crazies” since I haven’t seen it yet. It’s been on my “to watch” list for ages, I just haven’t got around to it.

    Ok… I have the same problem with “Trollhunter” as I do with “Matchstick Men”, “28 Days Later”, and, to a far lesser extent, “Kill List”. (And bear in mind I absolutely loved “Kill List”, probably more than any other new film I’ve seen over the last few years bar “Wall-E”.) Which is that the ending totally undercuts the rest of the film, doesn’t “fit” thematically, and is senseless – both in that it’s illogical and that there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to be there.

    So with “Kill List”… at heart, it’s a character study of an instinctive natural killer who also happens to be a troubled family man. And by that criteria, it’s by far the best film I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I cannot think of another film that’s as riveting as “Kill List” was to me simply because of its main character. That being the case… I wish they hadn’t gone down the “cult” route. It doesn’t piss me off as much as it does other people, certainly, but what it DOES do is take the focus off the character drama that is the heart of this film. And that’s the drama I want to see resolved.

    “Matchstick Men”… look, it’s a story of con-artists. It’s made explicitly clear from very early on that these guys don’t have “honour” in the way that, say, the people in the TV show “Hustle” do. While Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell seem to share an implicit trust, there are clues throughout that that trust may be misplaced – as indeed it turns out to be. It’s also made clear from very early on that once you’ve conned somebody, you get the hell out or risk being arrested or beaten down. This is a film about deception and the way we can be controlled by our mental quirks, emotions and assumptions; but it’s pretending to be a film about family and redemption. Heck, being conned and losing everything IS Nic Cage’s redemption.

    So why do they go and undercut all of that in the final scene between Cage and Lohman (which, incidentally, I don’t buy for a second would ever happen between those two characters in their circumstances)? I have no idea. All I know is it’s completely wrong for the film. Doesn’t spoil the rest of it, but it’s a horrible ending that feels tacked-on by producers or something.

    And “28 Days Later”… should’ve ended with the horses. That’s all I’m saying. Look, if you’ve watched the film, chances are you know exactly what I think is wrong with the direction it chooses to take from that point on. I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one.

    Trollhunter… my problem with the ending is that it isn’t JUST the end of the film that it ruins. The filmmakers try to “justify” it throughout the film, specifically with the bureaucrat character, and that’s a HUGE problem for me. For one thing, I hated the character. I hated the cliche’d concept of him, I hated the way his presence made it abundantly clear what would happen in the end, I hated how he had no function whatsoever except to set up that ending. You can’t root for or against him as a character, he’s just there, taking up space.

    But specifically I hated how much of a waste the ending was, how senseless and unnecessary it was, and how much could’ve been done instead of it that would’ve been SO much better.

    Gonna shut up about it now because I honestly don’t think I can say any more here. Plus I got a pie in the oven.

  43. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 18th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Ok, quick update on the pie situation (because I know you’re all gagging for it): my steak and stilton pie has too much stilton, not enough steak. Ain’t that always the case?

    I feel like that should probably be a clever metaphor for something, but it’s really not. I just happen to like pie.

  44. No JF, nobody said any film with Pagan cults is The Wicker Man. What I meant was, any film where the unsuspecting protagonist finds himself targeted by a Pagan cult in order to be the victim of a sacrificial ritual is The Wicker Man. Obviously, I’m ignoring the vitriolic indictment of the oligarchic powers that be though, so yeah, they’re totally different. Am I allowed to say that the ending seems very similar to The Last Exorcism as well? 

    Matthew B; Ah, that makes sense. 

  45. Hey y’know what? In my earlier comment when I asked what was up with ending and said ‘he’s king of the wicker people’. That’s a line from 1989 Batman. I googled it after and the first video that came up had the scene I was referencing with the caption ‘king of the wicker people… Right Jim?’ Huuuh? Whaaa? How’d it know my name?! I had to spend a minute telling myself that it wasn’t a glitch in the matrix.

  46. My point is whatever similarities KILL LIST has with THE WICKER MAN, what it’s ultimately trying to accomplish is a whole different kettle of mutilated fish. THE WICKER MAN is about Christianity v. Paganism, whereas KILL LIST is more about society in general. And THE WICKER MAN was hardly the first story in existence to have a twist like that.

    Watching KILL LIST I never got the sense that it was trying to paper over a lack of narrative cohesion by keeping the specifics hazy. It feels like what we get is just the creepy tip of a sinister iceberg, and getting a fuller view of it might have satisfied you guys more, but also made it less scary and suggestive for the people like myself who are more than satisfied with it as it is.

  47. I kind of share Vern’s opinion of this film.

    I don’t really want to knock it because I can tell the kind of film these filmmakers want to make is a kind I would really enjoy, and I don’t want them to stop trying just because they dropped the ball a bit at the end of their first effort.

    It really needed a final third that had the subtlety of the first 2 thirds, but it didnt get that. However, I dont share the popular internet opinion that the ending is bad enough to invalidate the rest of the film. It’s just not a good ending is all. Sometimes the journey matters as much as the destination.

    I loved the Hanneke-eque direction of the early scenes, and especially the playing of really creepy music when totally mundane shit is going on. If they stole that from some other film, can someone please tell me what film so I can check it out?

  48. I had problems with the first third too, although I find Mike Leigh movies pretentious and inauthentic, so I guess it succeeded in being like a Mike Leigh movie. I just thought that guy obviously had violence in him and anyone should see that in his passive aggressive behavior, or overt behavior really, and stay away from him. Also I kinda figured he’d be a hit man because the movie was called KILL LIST.

    But yeah I feel kinda dirty poo pooing it at this point. A lot of people enjoy it so great. And even better a lot of us found we are not alone in seeing through it. For me it’s a whole year old now and over the last year I gradually found more and more likeminded people, though this is certainly the mother load!

  49. JF, I’m not sure if the negative reactions towards the film in this forum have anything to do with narrative ambiguity? I could be totally wrong though and just misreading the comments. We’re a pretty intelligent bunch and it’s a rarity to hear about anyone clamoring for *more* exposition in their movies – and I am absolutely satisfied and intrigued by films that have the courage to remain enigmatic and interpretable it’s just that I’m pretty sure that I *got* Kill List, at least in the capacity in which the director refers to other audience members “getting it”, but I just didn’t think that the film had as much depth, impact or resonance as others seem to, the filmmakers included.

    I really enjoyed Down Terrace though and this is the kind of thing I usually love and I *really* wanted to like it and I’m just super disappointed that I didn’t. Writing negative appraisals of small, well-intentioned genre films isn’t exactly an enjoyable past-time, and I wasn’t going to comment on it at all until I read that interview on Chud. I was just so infuriated by the suggestion that there were only two possible responses to the film, either a) you didn’t get it and immediately dismissed it because you don’t think about things enough so fuck you, or, b) you are one of the intelligent members of the audience who got about 90% of it and because of that I am confident that you enjoyed it so congratulations and please tell all of your other intelligent friends.

    Personally I’m all about option c) got it, still didn’t like it. And in this case I am more than prepared to blame “the thing” because in my opinion “the thing” is flawed and broken.

    It is absolutely fantastic to see that so many people seem to *love* Kill List though and I’m sure that Ben Wheatley is going to direct many more films in his life and I will be optimistic about them and look forward to watching them and, hopefully, enjoying them as much as some of y’all enjoyed this one.

    And again, Quarantine 2. So, you know…

  50. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 19th, 2012 at 10:22 am

    1900 – I would unfortunately place Vern in that category as well – “got it but didn’t like it”. And there’s no question in my mind that the ending should’ve been different. I thought the rest of it was so good, though, that it overcame that problem. But that’s movies… opinions are gonna be subjective. I can see how people might actually enjoy some films that I hate. I don’t begrudge them for it or attach my ego to them or anything.

    And I had much the same reaction on “Young Adult” and also wished I hadn’t. (It came pretty highly recommended on this forum, and again, I can see why. Theron and Oswalt in particular are fantastic in it. It’s just a shame that I had zero interest in seeing what happened to them.) I think Mouth made some excellent points on “Sucker Punch” that made me, if not want to sit through the film again, at least reconsider it in a new light than I’d previously thought. Even though our opinions generally don’t seem to agree, I thought they might on “Young Adult”. Unfortunately not the case. What I’m saying is that I don’t like being the odd man out who “disses” the film everyone else loves. But my experience of film is obviously very different to a lot of people’s (that’s probably true of everybody actually) and it’s gonna happen.

    I haven’t read the interview on Chud, but it doesn’t help with the filmmakers act like dicks. If true, that disappoints me, especially given my high opinion of this film.

    Well I’m glad that some people loved it anyway. And I will still consider this my personal “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” (which a few people here also don’t like, although I think most do). I’ve made a lot of recommendations to you guys recently – “Margin Call”, “The Silence”, “Shame”, etc – but I don’t think any of them will top “Kill List”, for me. Ah well, I’ll keep bringing ’em up as I see ’em… not much out at the moment though.

  51. Kick those nasty thoughts, 1-900.

  52. Funny that everybody mentioned the comparisons to A SERBIAN FILM here, because I just coincidentally watched them both on the same night. I hate to say this, because it’s like admitting you like to get peed on or something, but I liked ASF better than KILL LIST. Maybe there’s something wrong with me but at least it made me laugh. It was too self-consciously grotesque to take seriously, so no matter what depravities they poured on, it never managed to shock me or even make me feel dirty. It just felt like a geek show. But I didn’t mind. I prefer a good geek show to the unrelenting wallow in human degradation I was expecting. (Bear in mind I watched it with no subtitles so I probably missed some subtext or something. I think I got the gist, though.)

    Following it up with KILL LIST put me in the mindset to guess the very ending pretty quick. And all the WICKER MAN talk had spoiled that whole aspect anyway. But whatever. Not the movie’s fault. It’s pretty well made and has believable drama and some tension, I guess, but when it’s all said and done it’s just not a very good story. There was the potential for a good story in there if they’d just dropped the super lame pagan gimmick. They should have stayed the course and told the story they began with: A violent professional suffering from post-traumatic stress loses his shit and alienates himself from his family. Could have been the most interesting treatment of hitman tropes in a long time. But instead nothing really comes of any of the intriguing themes they set up, just so they could pull the rug out from under you for one last unearned shock. It’s not ambiguous, it’s just unsubstantiated. There’s a difference.

    And applying any of the sociopolitical subtext that some people have mentioned just makes it worse. If it doesn’t work as a story it sure as fuck doesn’t work as an allegory.

    Excellent skull-hammering, though. One of the very finest I’ve seen.

  53. Knox Harrington

    June 10th, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Watched this today and liked it. Fuck, it gets scary in places.

    I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand what it is that people don’t “get” about this film. Is there anything to get? It’s a bit vague and the ending is quite abrupt, but there’s nothing to make you feel cheated. Do you really need to know the mechanics and reasoning of a crazy cult of naked people with a fetish for straw masks? Nah, I’m happy enough knowing they’re fucked in the head and our poor hitman is having a bad day because of it.

    I don’t think there’s any emperor’s new clothes here. There’s nothing to “see through”. Just a few questionable filmmaking decisions (but also many good ones).

    I really liked the tone and the characters. I liked the subtlety. The thrill of the unexpected. Yeah, not bad. I kinda wish it didn’t get so many 5 star ratings, though. It’s making life difficult for a film that really shouldn’t be seen as a masterpiece.

    P.S. Am I the only one who thinks his partner was in on the whole thing? He makes sure our protagonist eats rabbit for supper on that last night, and he also says “thank you” just before he dies, just like all the others.

  54. Just saw this junk without knowing anything about it. The first third was watchable but then it quickly gets annoying or as my friend says “when will this torture end”. This is one of those movies that seems to be much longer than its running time, and that ain’t ever good. There was not a character in the movie that was likable or interesting or worth caring about. The movie doesn’t engage, it just takes you to the next scene. You just want them to stop talking. The violence at times is pretty strong, and that is the only thing I think this movie has going for it, and that ain’t much, because it seems to be done as an out of place gimmick, as we could care less about both of these guys. It’s not scary…its more ridiculous, with scarecrow people that are in some kind of supernaturally related evil hitman cult or some sort of stupidity and we are supposed to be entertained or enthralled. Long and sucky is the short of it.

  55. Kill List had the potential to be an epic horror film but failed miserabley. One of the WORST movies I have EVER seen. I want my two houra back.

    Sam Jones

  56. Sorry Paul, I kinda hated this one. Just really dull and tedious – having the subtitles on helped me to understand what they were saying, but it didn’t make the dialogue any more interesting. And yeah, it’s not like I don’t “get” the movie, I just don’t “get” why anyone would champion this movie the way the internet did. At least with other “not as good as I keep hearing they were” movies like Attack the Block or The Guest, I can totally understand why people go gaga for them. (I also don’t even really think there was a twist like people were saying – just plot developments that were more or less pretty blatantly foreshadowed, leaving the payoffs with a big shrug). The only thing I can see people being into here is the torture-porny head-bashing scene. On the internet hyperbole scale, this probably ranks on the bottom (with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night at the top and You’re Next in the middle)

    BUT – I do second you on Coherence though- great, great movie – a true mind-bending movie that actually DOES reward one for going in blind, but is also accessible, entertaining, and easy to follow. Best indie sci-fi since Primer. I’ll try to find your post in the forums one of these days to further discuss.

  57. I came here as soon as I finished watching KILL LIST, because in all honestly I don´t get it either. It started out really strong as a character drama, and then it just got gradually worse to the point it completely lost me. Sure, it´s pretty creepy at the end, but it all puzzles me why a movie that srtated as good had to be reduced to a genre-melting cluster fuck of a movie.

  58. I can’t answer your question, Vern, but I can post the trailer to his latest movie. It looks wacky as hell and I laughed a few times in the trailer. Could be an enjoyable romp.

    Free Fire | Official Red Band Trailer HD | A24

    SUBSCRIBE: http://bit.ly/A24subscribe It's all guns, no control in the electrifying first trailer for Ben Wheatley's FREE FIRE, starring Sharlto Copley, Armi...

  59. Well, it’s got Scorsese as EP going for it. And more Armie Hammer is always welcome. Don’t know about the RESERVOIR DOGS one-set thing, and it whiffs of post-Tarantino gangster jibing, which we don’t really need any more of. I did like KILL LIST, DOWN TERRACE and SIGHTSEERS. Hated A FIELD IN ENGLAND. Good to see Wheatley trying to lighten things up, I guess.

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