Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Kill List (2011)
Let's get the elements that folks generally agree on out of the way. First: yes, the film is beautifully shot. Not as in breathtaking scenery and colors; but as in composition and tone. The photography is perfect for this type of morose, gritty film. At times claustrophobic and never flinching from a situation, there's a lot to love in the visual aesthetics of Kill List. Second: the actors, too, bring their A game, especially the stunning MyAnna Buring, a Swedish actress whom I kept thinking was Kelly Rippa and whom I totally forgot about being in The Descent. The tension between the two couples in the beginning section of the film is genuine and highly laudable. And, finally, third: said beginning portion of the film centers around a dinner scene between two couples, which was confusing to the point of securing my attention but not losing me. I've read some reviewers who were put off by the thick accents and the general confusion of the opening, but I maintain that this works in the film's favor.
Sadly, the end of the opening dinner party scene is exactly, for me, where the film stopped being interesting and became an audience-exercise in oversight and grace. The main character's friend's girlfriend goes into the bathroom and leaves a marking on the wall. The same marking that's on the cover art, the BluRay menu, and just about all the other marketing for the film. I hate this with a passion! It's why I avoid trailers and posters as much as possible. The disc menus are probably the worst at giving away major points of any movie. Because by this point we understand that this is some sort of cult or religious film. If you don't and I just "ruined" the movie for you, I sincerely apologize. But I feel fairly confident that by the end of the movie, after the "big reveal" I will not have spoiled anything. Anyway, back to the scene in question. This little sequence with the writing on the bathroom wall was the first of many times that I asked, what is the point?
At that point, the plot is established that the main character and his partner will team up to carry out some more hits on a list of individuals. As an aside I will say that I am a sucker for the poetic setup of dividing the movie's parts with titles--I really like this. What happens during the course of their hits, however, is a constant recurrence of the targets saying thank-you to the main character. Like the sign on the bathroom wall, this seemed like forced suspense. As in, let's just throw this in to add some suspense for the audience. The effect, in practice, however, was lame. Now, it could have worked had they not given us the bathroom signing scene in which the main character is not present. Because all of these thank-yous could've been chalked up to the main character's mental breakdown. Why not just have the main character find the marking? Thus again I harken back to the argument about the fact that we already get this being a whole conspiracy/cult setup. With the very first thank-you it is pretty clear that, oh, okay, they're all in on this. Each time this happened I found myself asking, what is the point?
And then the ending. Ah, this graceful ending to a film we've already figured out. (I'll have to talk around this a bit so as not to spoil anything, so forgive the vagueness.) So, as suspected Kill List takes a departure from a violent mystery/thriller setup. And there's a harrowing moment at the very end, entitled "The Hunchback," that I will admit is quite disturbing and shocking. In fact, I can't help but feel that the filmmakers agreed that the film didn't yield much of an effect due to letting on too early and too overtly about the true story, so they decided to throw in one last shock. But, wait! Is this even really a shock? I mean, perhaps the actual depiction of the event-in-question is; but anyone who reads into an early, seemingly misplaced scene, will not be completely shocked as the film alludes to, let's say, the results of the event. Plus, as you might have guessed, this is the biggest moment in which I asked myself, what is the point?
Thus my final assessment is that the film does too much with the story. It's an enjoyable (I use this word in the context of a horror blog, mind you) movie to watch, but it's irritating to think about at all. So don't analyse it, you say. Well, that's a bit difficult when the film establishes itself as a mystery from the start. Hopefully it will hold up on a subsequent watch. There's a section thrown in during a moment I've already referenced, in which some character (MyAnna Buring, I assume) speaks in Swedish for a bit. Perhaps I need to go back and turn on subs or use an iPhone app to translate it for me. Maybe, just maybe, this little nugget is the key, encrypted in Swedish, that will unlock the film's true pleasures. If not, I'm afraid I'll be in the same boat, rocking back and forth in the gray space between love and hate.