Ben Wheatley’s much talked about Kill List is a dark, claustrophobic and disorientating journey into hell. It follows the descent into madness of Jay, a man haunted by the violence he has seen and committed both as a soldier in Iraq and in his post military career as a hit man for hire. Whether that descent into madness is internal or external is not clear and I will leave that up to you to decide. What is not in doubt though is that this is visceral, gut-wrenching, low budget film making at it’s very best.
The film starts relatively normally as a tale of domestic disintegration as Jay is still struggling to come to terms with a botched job 8 months previously. The largely improvised dialogue and handheld verite style of the film place it firmly in the British social realist genre of Leigh, Loach and Meadows. Things soon start to take a turn for the weird as Jay and his partner take on a mysterious new job. It is at this point that the film really comes into it’s own as an exercise in creating a claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere. Jay starts to unravel as things get increasingly out of hand and escalate towards a truly horrifying and upsetting denouement. Whether we are to take the events of the film literally or as some kind of manifestation of Post Traumatic Stress I am not sure and ultimately it does not really matter as for me it works either way. It is clear though that Wheatley has crafted a highly original and unsettling film that will undoubtedly become a cult classic in years to come.
Some have criticised Kill List as 2 different films clumsily welded together but the move from thriller to horror in the final part of the film is a masterstroke and left me reeling despite expecting this change of focus. It will not be for all tastes and indeed some of the people I watched it with absolutely hated it. What cannot be denied though is that love it or hate it Kill List will stay with you long after it has finished.
Something strange has happened to Kevin Smith. His past as a purveyor of foul mouthed slacker comedies does not prepare the audience in any way for what unfolds in this difficult, brutal and uncompromising film.
The film starts simply enough as what seems like another teen horror movie when three horny teenage boys head off to meet a mysterious woman for sex after contacting her through the internet. Things take a turn for the worse when the trio then find themselves at the mercy of a Westboro Baptist Church style right wing fundamentalist Christian group and are imprisoned in their fortified compound. Michael Parks is terrifying as the hate fuelled bigot and leader of the 5 Points Church, Abin Cooper. There is something worryingly believable in his conviction and faith that makes us all too aware of the real power that charismatic “men of god” can have over their flock.
After briefly flirting with the promise of some Hostel style torture porn the film changes tack again as the authorities become involved and a Waco-esque siege situation develops. It is here that the film really comes into it’s own as a bold and daring piece of cinema. John Goodman (on blistering form) plays grizzled ATF agent, Joseph Keenan, who is forced to deal with some very difficult orders that throw a harsh spotlight on the American government’s approach to homeland security and the controversial Patriot Act.
Visually Smith also shows a hitherto unseen stylistic vision. His camera is a restless, prowling and invasive presence at times uncomfortably close to it’s subjects. At times I found myself wondering if this was not directed by some other Kevin Smith such is the stylistic and thematic shift in this impressive work.
Red State poses some very difficult questions about faith, government and modern American society in general and offers no easy answers. The final third of the film will leave you reeling and wondering who you are supposed to be rooting for. This is fierce, angry and questioning cinema of the kind that no one expected Kevin Smith capable of making. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not fun but it’s an essential piece of cinema that is guaranteed to polarise audiences.