The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

How Kill List and I didn’t match

with 20 comments

I try not to care about the stars, I really do, but sometimes there are so many of them that I can’t avoid taking notice.

The cover of Kill List was cramped with five star ratings and enthusiastic quotes from reviews.

“The most original, unsettling and cerebrally menacing British film of the decade so far”, said Financial Times and I raised my eyebrows questioning for a second. I didn’t know Financial Times was such an authority on horror movies. Perhaps it was a result of the finance crisis in Europe, the imagination running wild among desperate businessmen?

Total Film, who should know what they were talking about, chimed in, calling it “the best British horror film in years”. And then I remembered: wasn’t this on my favourite critic Mark Kermode’s top 10 list of 2011?

With all those recommendations from trustworthy people it couldn’t possibly go wrong, could it?

But it did. It went so very wrong between me and Kill List.

Three different films
Since this is a low-budget film which barely has made it out of the festival circuit, I can imagine you haven’t heard of it before. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but basically it’s about two hit men who get hired to take care of a few people. As they’re working their way through the list, things get increasingly violent and it turns out that this is something that goes beyond their ordinary missions.

This sounds like a fairly ordinary horror movie, but it’s not. It’s a strange creature of a film, shifting completely in tone and style over time. For a brief moment I thought to myself that something must have happened in the editing, where they by mistake cut and pasted together three different films.

The first part is the introduction of the character, a family drama, where we see one of the hit men having endless arguments with his wife since they’re running short of money and she thinks he needs to take a job. There’s nothing wrong about discussions over the kitchen sink, but it’s something I expect from a completely different set of British directors à la Leigh or Loach, not from a 1,5 hour long horror movie. I think it took about half an hour before they left the marriage issues and got started on a mission.

The next part of the film is the gruesome killing, which is no short of Drive in its level of violence.

And then there’s the final, which I won’t reveal anything about, but which has very little to do with the movie until that point. This is where the label “horror movie” becomes more appropriate, since they’re making use of a very old cliché that I think was scarier back in the 70s than it is now.

One by one the three parts are well made and well played; the problem is the disharmony that occurs when you put them together in one movie. It’s like serving ice cream with mustard. It’s like wearing a tuxedo top to your jogging trousers.

It just doesn’t match, and it doesn’t get better by the abrupt ending, which made me scratch my head and put out the question: WTF?

I had gone through an entire movie, accepting that it was more than a little strange. I kept telling myself that they were planting stuff and that eventually I would get to enjoy the fruits of it; there would surely be pay-offs. But there weren’t any, apart from a rather silly twist. I felt cheated. I had expected to get a story; what I got was fragments and if I wanted to put it together to a one entity I would have to figure it out for myself.

Lack of chemistry
For all my complaints I wouldn’t advice true horror movie fans from giving this a try. After all it’s got all those stars on the cover and I’m not a full fledged fan of the genre. Maybe you will discover something that I missed. 

But the relationship between me and Kill List wasn’t meant to be. We didn’t have the right chemistry.

Kill List (Ben Wheatley, UK, 2011) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

July 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Kill List

20 Responses

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  1. I’m a full fledged fan of the genre, but I totally agree with your review. I was surprised by my own dislike given all of the critical praise. Even my hero Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars.

    I know these things are subjective, but its unfathomable to me that people think “Kill List” is good. I’d go into further detail, but you’ve done a good job at expressing my thoughts on the film.


    July 3, 2012 at 1:10 am

    • OK, than it’s not about me not being passionate enough about horror movies. I was surprised when I realized that all this praise for the movie came from critics I really respect. They obviously saw something that I didn’t.


      July 3, 2012 at 9:05 am

  2. I’ll try to defend it.

    Usually horror movies are so derivative and so predictable that for me they end up providing far more laughs than scares. But I still watch them, lots of them. Like an addict, I’m constantly searching for that primal feeling of fear that I know they are capable of providing, but at this point in my life almost never encounter in films.

    So I can’t help but love when a film is able to keep me feeling confused and unsettled all the way through like Kill List does. I love that every step of the way, there is an uneasy feeling. Even in the slow ‘kitchen sink’ beginning, you can sense it in the music, the angles, the staging, a feeling that something terrible is about to happen. I love how Wheatley toys with that tension, never giving us what we expect, but piling more confusion and anxiety.

    I will admit the ending could have been handled better, but I still found the abrupt change in pace in the final act to be a refreshing and unexpected turn. And for the briefest of moments, I felt that terror, like when I was 5, and saw the melting Nazi faces in Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    July 3, 2012 at 2:01 am

    • I didn’t really “feel it” to be honest. I rather grew slightly bored and impatient when the film wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this. Or maybe it would have worked better if I’d seen it in a theatre, shielded from the impressions of the real world. I think it always takes away a bit of the fright when you watch horror movies safe at home.

      And the end… to me it was more laughable, reminding me of someone arriving at home for a surprise party or something. So not scary.

      But again it’s a very personal thing and I really don’t doubt that you and others can find this really unsettling.


      July 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

  3. Hmmm…defnitely hasn’t gone far off the festival circuit. I’ve not heard of this one (not that I make an effort to look for horror films – I’m such a scaredy cat!). Sounds like they tried to do something new and it didn’t work out. Great review!


    July 3, 2012 at 2:31 am

    • Thanks Ruth! I think this is the kind of film that won’t get a huge cinematic release, but might get a reasonable audience through downloads and rentals. Not that I recommend it fierecly. If you want to dip your toes into the horror genre I think there are other more essential to try before you get to this.


      July 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

  4. Oh, I’ve heard about it. I’ve even seen it. And oh how I did not like it. You’re really too nice when grading this piece of manure, Jessica. 😉


    July 3, 2012 at 3:55 am

    • You are way more harsh than I am, but yes, we’ve definitely seen this movie through the same pair of glasses.


      July 3, 2012 at 9:44 am

  5. I must admit I am with you on this one Jessica. Although Mike posted a 5 star review of the film on FRC, I probably would have given it a 3 star.

    I like Wheatley as a film maker. Have you seen Down Terrace? If not I strongly recommend you do, it is MUCH better than this one in every way. Plus it is set in Brighton, my home town…

    I think for me, the whole freaky freakiness of the film got over hyped and I was expecting so much more. I enjoyed the Hotel restaurant scene. I found that hilarious, and something that Wheatley actually witnessed (ish)


    • No, I haven’t seen Down Terrace or even heard of Wheatley before. I wouldn’t mind giving him a try again. There are definitely some good elements in this film, it was more the story, the script, the basic idea, that didn’t work for me. I’m not deterred from further exploration.


      July 3, 2012 at 10:20 am

  6. I remember when this was released over here. Everyone was raving about it. I was close to seeing it at the cinema, but the times were all off and I ended up seeing Apollo 18 (that was a bad move…)

    Intrigued by your review of it. It’s the only lacklustre review I’ve really read, I haven’t heard anything but praise for the film.


    July 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

    • Well, I guess it’s about time someone gave a different perspective then. I can’t think of any movie that is unreservedly loved by everyone. When you see a movie getting all praise and you don’t agree, you can feel very odd. But judging from the comments there are more who have reservations about it than me.


      July 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

  7. I actually really enjoyed this one Jessica. I wouldnt praise it as far as some (or most) critics have but I found it very thought provoking and I couldn’t get the film out of my head for weeks after it. The ending was certainly a massive change of direction though and in still very unsure about it. If your interested, check out my shameless plug

    Mark Walker

    July 3, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    • We have a deal as you know Mark. I really encourage you to plug your reviews. We’re sometimes out of sync in what we see and I don’t always remember that you have reviewed something when I get to see it myself. I really wasn’t a fan of the massive change of direction in the end. I found it rather ridiculous and laughable. But again, as I said earlier, watching it at home might not be the best for this movie. It rarely is when it comes to horror.


      July 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm

  8. I love Kill List so much. I’ve watched it three times, and have sat down people I love to make them watch it too. I have to disagree with you about the tonal shift to the ending — I felt the “boring” stuff is what gave the ending it’s kick-in-the-stomach gravitas. I’m trying to be really vague so I don’t blow any of the plot, but it all leads up to why the main fellow .. reacted the way he did, when someone without his emotional baggage may have had a different reaction.

    I also have to admit I liked the sudden genre switch at the end. It’s been a loooooong time since I was utterly surprised by a scary movie. Anyway, sorry you didn’t enjoy the movie as much!

    Another Jessica

    July 4, 2012 at 12:23 am

    • Three times! Wow! I really can’t imagine watching this again. But here’s to shifting opinions! That’s what makes blogging worthwhile. Cheers!


      July 4, 2012 at 12:25 am

  9. I agree. Good dialogue and characters but weird story at least the last third.


    July 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

    • Just read your review and we’re exactly on the same page wtih this. I agree that the acting is fine.
      the question is if we’re a bit slow thinking or not… Well if we are, at least there are two of us.


      July 4, 2012 at 11:40 am

  10. Excellent review once again, Jess 🙂 I’ve read mixed reviews for this one, so maybe I’ll need to watch it and see where I stand.


    July 9, 2012 at 3:18 am

    • Thanks Fernando! Go ahead and watch it. I don’t say it’s bad because it’s not. It’s just that it didn’t click for me as it has for many others.


      July 9, 2012 at 8:10 am

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