Directed by Ben Wheatley, 2011's Kill List focuses on a hitman named Jay (Neil Maskell) who hasn't worked a job in eight months. We're told that something went wrong and that since then, he's more or less been laying low, much to the protestations of his pretty Swedish wife (MyAnna Buring), though the son they have together seems happy enough to have his dad around. When the pair have his best friend and former co-worker, Gal (Michael Smiley), and his new girlfriend over for dinner, it doesn't take long before the conversation turns to business and soon enough Gal has talked Jay into accompanying him on a job.
The pair head to a hotel where they receive the list of three targets they're being asked to take out before they can collect their pay and although Jay is embarrassed when his credit card doesn't go through for the room Gal picks up the tab. The client seems to know more about Jay and Gal and their work in Kiev than Jay and Gal know about him, but they take the job and start tracking down their first target, a priest who has a parish in a rural town. Oddly enough, when they kill him, he thanks them. The same thing happens when they take out a librarian who happens to have a rather massive stash of pornography. Confused by this, Jay starts to seem slightly more unhinged than he used to, which starts to shake his relationship not only with his wife but with Gal as well. As they head to the location of their third target - a high ranking member of parliament who lives in a massive country home - they witness something akin to a pagan ritual...
Kill List takes a little bit of time to get moving but once it does it proves to be a pretty interesting and well made film. Neil Maskell does a great job as Jay. We know he's got issues from the beginning when we see him go out grocery shopping for the dinner party only to come back with more wine than food but despite the fact that he's a bit of an ass to his wife, he seems to care about her and their son. As the character begins his downward spiral Maskell's acting takes on a very physical style that works well in the context of what is happening. Smiley as Gal is the opposite. Despite how much the two characters have in common and despite the fact that they are good friends, he doesn't share Jay's borderline lunatic tendencies and remains the cooler of the two. Initially it seems that both of these middle aged men are only in this game to support themselves and are past the point of doing what they do for any other reasons than financial gain, though as the story progresses we get some interesting revelations here.
The movie builds to a pretty satisfying conclusion though one that demonstrates an uncanny similarity to Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man. Without wanting to head into spoiler territory the two films share a few themes all of which come to a head in the finale of each picture. This might take away from the film's ending for those who are quite familiar with the aforementioned classic of British horror but those similarities aside, Kill List does a good job of carving out its own niche thanks to the criminal elements that play such a huge part in the set up and character development.
Though the pacing starts off a little slow the movie manages to get its feet firmly on the ground and once it does, it moves along fast enough to hold your attention. Wheatley directs with as much style and flair as necessary, keeping things in the dark a lot (both figuratively and literally) until he's ready to show his hand. It works and it works well.
IFC presents Kill List on Blu-ray in a very nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer framed at 2.35.1. This looks just as good as you'd hope such a recent production would look in high definition. The transfer shows excellent detail not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well. Texture is consistently impressive, be it the fibers that make up a sweater or some grit in one of the background shots, while contrast looks to be properly set throughout. Much of the film takes place in darker situations so it's important that shadow detail remain strong and the disc doesn't disappoint in that department either. There are no issues with compression artifacts to note nor is there any edge enhancement of obvious noise reduction to complain about. Colors look nice and natural and overall this transfer is rock solid.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also very strong. What you'll notice most is how good the score sounds here. The use of music in the film is handled very well and really helps to build atmosphere in a few key scenes and this track spreads it all out nicely. Of course, we also get some interesting sound effects in the scenes that call for them as well as the type of clear dialogue you'd expect from a new lossless mix but it's the music that stands out that most here. Regardless, everything sounds quite good. There are no issues with hiss or distortion and the levels are set properly. Bass response is strong when the movie calls for it - gun shots pack a punch, for example - while the high end remains clear and free of any shrillness .Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, no other alternate language or subtitle options are provided.
IFC has included a substantial amount of extras on this disc starting with the first of two commentaries. Director Ben Wheatley is joined by writer Amy Jump to talk about the behind the scenes work that resulted in the film. There's a lot of good discussion here as to character development and motivation as well as what certain scenes mean in relation to others - they basically examine the film from their point of view and share some interesting bits and pieces about how this all came together. The second commentary features lead performers actors Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley and it obviously takes a different approach, with the focus of this talk coming from in front of the camera. Again we get some discussions as to character motivations but we also learn why they played certain scenes the way that they did, what it was like working with Wheatley and more.
From there we get three interview segments, the first of which features producers Claire Jones and Andrew Starke who discuss the origins of the project, what their specific roles in it involved, the storyline, the character development and what it was like working with Wheatley. The second interview lets Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring talk more about their work on the film, their respect for the project and all involved, and the film's director, who gets his own separate interview where he chimes in on the film's violence and the themes that crop up in the story. There's some crossover here between the interviews and the commentary tracks but they're still worth checking out.
Rounding out the extras us a quick eight minute featurette called The Making Of Kill List that takes us behind the scenes of the movie showing off things like camera tests and pre-production work, a two minute featurettes including interviews with cast and crew, a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other IFC properties. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included. All of the extras are presented in high definition.
Kill List is an interesting mix of crime thriller and horror movie featuring some very solid performances, a truly bizarre finale and a pretty tense build up. IFC offers the movie up in excellent condition with a great transfer and solid audio and with a wealth of strong supplements to accompany the feature. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.