"Ben Wheatley's debut Down Terrace, about a Brighton crime family whose bickering resembles Abigail's Party, then Macbeth, had almost no budget and was literally home-made," begins Nick Hasted at the Arts Desk. "Many critics still realized that it was one of the best and most original films of 2010. With its cult success repeated in the US, Wheatley has quickly followed it with the most assured and troubling British horror film in many years. Kill List confirms his promise while pinning you to your seat with scenes of cold nightmare."
"I'm unsure how or whether to describe it generically," admits the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It's partly an occult chiller with shades of Wicker Man and Blair Witch – and be warned right now: there are some ultra-violent and infra-retch scenes that have had people making for the exits…. It often looks like a film by Lynne Ramsay or even Lucrecia Martel, composed in a dreamily unhurried arthouse-realist style that is concerned to capture texture, mood and moment…. Perhaps inspired by Thomas Clay's The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, Wheatley has set out to supersaturate ostensible normality with a flavour of evil. In many scenes he succeeds impressively. It's not entirely clear if Kill List is more than the sum of its startlingly disparate parts, or if the ending lives up to the promise of something strange and new, but its confidence is beyond doubt."
"Co-written with Wheatley's wife, Amy Jump, it unfolds with the kind of skewed domestic banality that made Down Terrace so strangely plausible," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Neil Maskell, fatigued and terrific, plays Jay, a henpecked husband who also happens to be a contract killer. It's eight months since his last job – something in Kiev that went messy and has left him traumatised. His Swedish wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) is bugging him to take more work, and tensions boil over at an excruciating dinner with his business partner Gal (Michael Smiley). Wheatley's brand of cringe-makingly exact suburban observation has been justly equated with Mike Leigh's, but he also knows how to set us up for something more unexpected. The only clue we get is the scene at said dinner where Gal's slightly peculiar girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) goes to the bathroom and carves a rune on the back of the mirror. It's an incredibly shivery moment, and for a full hour we don't know what it portends – how to plant an undefined anxiety in your audience, and leave it to grow."
"Constant narrative ambiguity is what renders Kill List so compelling," argues Lucian Robinson in the Financial Times. "It's often funny, ostensibly and unwittingly, as when we cut straight from the duo incinerating a priest to Jay sweet-talking Shel on Skype, but the humour is always conditioned by the prowling threat of imminent violence. Wheatley's quick-cut scenes and the film's disparate, overlaid dialogue all add to this howling conspiracy of terror that we know must ultimately be confronted."
The Independent's Anthony Quinn: "You will be asking yourself questions about Kill List once it's over, pondering its layers of meaning and its trail of clues. Of how many other recent British films could one say the same?"
"Wheatley might be the most idiosyncratic and exciting filmmaker the UK has produced since Shane Meadows," declares Tom Huddleston in Time Out London, where he also interviews Wheatley.
Update: "Whether Kill List becomes another money-spinner or not," writes the Guardian's Danny Leigh, "it's pleasing that its director looks set to stick around, Wheatley having a slate of British projects on the go rather than following the example of, say, Alan Parker back in the 70s, setting up in Hollywood with an apparent complete indifference to British stories. People will have long ago picked sides about how much credit the ghost of the Film Council deserves for any good news in British film – but if there was a scrap of idealism in its heart it would be a decent legacy to have helped persuade people we might have cinema worth seeing beyond the Ealing classics reissued here over the summer. Who knows, if we keep this up, soon we might not even need our own categories at the award shows just to make sure we win something."
Update, 9/4: For the Observer's Philip French, the films "that immediately come to my mind are a British film that everyone knows, The Wicker Man, and a less familiar American picture I greatly admire, Jack Starrett's Race With the Devil, in which Peter Fonda and Warren Oates have satanic encounters in rural Texas. From the start the dialogue is often obscure and not always easy to catch, and the film gets darker and murkier as it proceeds, with some scenes so obfuscated that it's difficult to follow what is going on. This is no doubt intentional. Mystification and disorientation are his objects, not catharsis, and Wheatley, a moviemaker of great individuality and imagination, ultimately leaves us to make what connections we will."
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