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SXSW Movie Review: ‘Kill List’

March 17, 2011

Kill List suffers from a case of schizophrenia. It tries to be a jack of all trades, but masters none of those said trades during the course of the film.

Though I personally found the film gratifying, I was sorely disappointed in the disjointed quality of the final product. The film starts out a fairly interesting character study of a semi-retired hit-man (Neil Maskell)  and his oddly complacent wife (Myanna Buring). Turns out she is quite capable, having been a member of the Swedish army. She understands the demands of his unconventional job, and encourages him to return to the lifestyle in order to keep their family afloat.

I liked the aspect of her not only knowing about, but encouraging, his amoral lifestyle. An old acquaintance shows up for dinner with his mysterious girlfriend, and just like that, he is thrust back into the hitman lifestyle.

After a heated domestic argument ruins the evening, he takes an assignment to off a few pesky people, hence the title, “Kill List”. Even though he’s been out of the biz for a while, it takes precious little time to jump back in the saddle, offing his victims so sadistically that his partner finds it disturbing.

There are hints of a pedophilia/snuff/pornography ring. When Jay watches a video featuring one of the people on the list, his reaction to what he sees upsets and enrages him to the point that he offs those responsible in horrible ways. This is an interesting trope to examine, the hired killer feels vindicated in his actions when he feels morally superior to those he disposes of, all the while   becoming more depraved than those he punishes in the process of killing them. I Saw the Devil built a whole movie about the idea, to great effect.

At any rate, the first two targets react oddly to their imminent death; they are pleased to meet and thank him for killing him. It all provides for a great mystery, but the film runs off of the rails during the last third of the movie. For no reason whatsoever, we are thrust into a Wickerman./Children of the Corn type cult setting, and it truly ridiculous.

The movie had a lot going for it, and there was absolutely no reason for the film to veer off into this unwarranted sub-plot. It pretty much ruined the film.

I want to know what happened to the real characters. What were their backgrounds? How long was he a hitman? What was on the videotape? All of these issues could have fleshed out the film, but the change of plot/tone was irritating.

A wonderful concept was wasted by a last minute bait and switch. What a shame. There was lots of potential here.

Rating 3/5.  Good news for the film- it has been acquired by IFC Midnight Films for distribution.


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