It’s fair to say I didn’t much like writer/director Ben Wheatley’s debut picture. Still pulling in as the most negative review on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, I gave Down Terrace only one star for good reason; it was terrible. It wasn’t just on a narrative level where the film failed, cringe-worthy acoustic guitar cutaways and a simple lack of filmic values (cinematography was nonexistent and frequent pixelation as Wheatley chooses to focus in on his subjects with digital (yes digital) zoom) irreparably damaged the picture. In saying: “Down Terrace doesn’t just feel like the work of a first-time filmmaker, but that of someone who’s never before thought of making movies”, I wasn’t harsh, I was honest.
It seems Ben Wheatley wasn’t pleased; a couple of days after going live, an email landed in my inbox from the man himself. Now, this is an unprecedented move. Directors often say you shouldn’t read your own reviews, get a feeling of the buzz, fine, but often go no further. To then email a critic who didn’t like your work is pretty much unheard of, but then I do guess he had to check: “Did you guys see the same film?” Yes Ben, that’s how we just reviewed it.
And yet when news of his follow-up hit the grapevine I was excited. Accepted into this year’s SXSW Film Festival (kudos), picked up by IFC in the States and with Warp X co-producing, Kill List even received some (if meaningless) great reviews from Empire and Total Film. The tides, it seemed, might be turning.
With times falling hard, ex-soldiers-turned-contract killers Jay (Maskall) and Gal (Smiley) decide to take on one last job, only as they run down their kill list, things quickly begin to spiral out of control and take an unexpected twist on the final hit.
Spending much too much time with the characters at the start, and without teasing out even an ounce of emotional involvement, Kill List feels unfortunately imbalanced. With 90 minutes knocking on the runtime, and the film already outstaying its welcome, the plot rushes to explain an on-going mythology in the final five minutes, when it should have been explored in at least half, if not the whole, final act.
The cast this time are good, with hearty performances from a bunch of relative unknowns, and pleasingly Wheatley avoids some of the chronic problems that ruined his debut, but still this is not a movie you should make any effort to see.
Some of the ingredients were right (early dialogue and closing claustrophobic chase) but Kill List lacks spark or the hunger to draw you in. It’s a hitman film with no energy, no pace, and so without a compelling narrative it relies on gore-hungry murders to keep your eyes on the screen. And it’s not even very good at them.
I walked into Kill List with an open and excited mind, but left wishing I hadn’t bothered. If Ben Wheatley is really “among the most promising filmmakers in Britain,” then God help us all.