Friday, October 10, 2014

30 Days of Nightmares #10: KILL LIST (2011)

The Story: A war veteran reluctantly returns to his old trade as a hitman and becomes haunted by mysterious events.  (Vague, I know... but anything more specific would be a spoiler.)

Expectations: This film got a lot of attention in 2011, particularly from British critics who compared it to films from the golden age of modern British horror: WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971), THE WICKER MAN (1973), etc.  Since the writer/director of KILL LIST is a young man named Ben Wheatley, comparisons were also made to author Dennis Wheatley, whose occult-themed novels inspired two of the best later-era Hammer horror films: THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976).  Also, my buddy Andrew--a serious horror fan and a bonafide limey--vouched for it.

Reaction: Horror films were not the only inspiration for KILL LIST.  For most of its running time, this is a gritty crime thriller in the tradition of GET CARTER (1971) and Guy Ritchie.  The horror elements are few and far between until the last twenty minutes of the movie.  This seems to be an increasingly popular approach to horror film narratives these days: build the characters in a different genre, then imposing the horror on their world to shock the audience.  It worked well for AUDITION (1999) and, more recently, for RESOLUTION (2012).  I appreciate this approach because it helps a horror movie to evade cliches, but it comes with its own problems.  Most notably: The viewer has to be a fan of both genres.

Truth be told, I'm not that crazy about British crime thrillers.  As a result, while watching KILL LIST, I spent a lot of time waiting for the horror to kick in.  Once the film went into fever dream mode (about twenty minutes from the end), I was fully engaged and I have to give the filmmaker very high marks for a harrowing final scene.... but honestly I was a bit bored up to that point, simply because I didn't care much about the crime story.  The main character is a sociopath... not without his humanizing vulnerabilities, but I just didn't find him sympathetic.  His story only sparked to life for me when he encountered things he couldn't understand... like a victim who says "thank you" as he's being beaten to death with a hammer!  Most horror fans seem to love this movie, but to me it felt disjointed.

To be fair, if I had known what was coming, I probably would have watched the early part of the film differently.  I suspect there were more early hints of horror than I picked up on, so KILL LIST might just warrant a repeat viewing.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Definitely the ending.

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