Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kill List: The Banality of Evil

This is sort of frustrating.

I want to tell you why I think Kill List is a really great movie, but at the same time, the less you know about it going in, the better. Normally I try to at least outline the premise to give you an idea of what kind of story this is, but seriously, half of what makes this movie so good is the way our understanding of the situation unfolds over almost the entire course of the movie like the blooming of some awful, poisonous flower.

Seriously, I think the brief blurb on IMDB gives away too much.

Jay is a family man, with a wife, son, house in the suburbs, and a jacuzzi for an old back injury. But money is tight - he hasn't worked for 8 months, and seems reluctant to go back. It's a tense household, sketched with an acid pen during a dinner party that is as excruciating as anything from Neil LaBute's early work. In the wake of the inevitable blow-up in front of guests, Jay's friend Gal mentions that he has work for the two of them. It's unclear what they do exactly - they served in the military and then private security together, but that's about it. Jay's reluctant to get back up on the horse - apparently things went badly the last time they worked together - but he needs the money, the work is local, and it shouldn't take him away from his family for too long.

Yeah, I don't want to say anything past that. But, you know, it's a horror movie, so you know things aren't going to go well.

Where Kill List excels is in creating a mood that can best be described as sinister. The awful and the everyday coexist comfortably in almost every scene of this film. Violence erupts, ending as abruptly as it began. Even the quiet moments are thick with dread and unease. Adding to the sense of disorientation and wrongness is a narrative told in fragments, as if the lives of the characters are isolated moments, strung together in sequence with little sense of moving from one state to another. Sometimes we can fill in the gaps, sometimes we can't. The characters talk around things until they eventually become clear. Weird little bits of savagery lie side by side next to quiet domestic interludes, and little by little, things begin to add up, for Jay and Gal as well as the audience. We might have a little bit of a head start on the protagonists in the Something Is Not Right Here sweepstakes, but Jay and Gal aren't stupid - just out of their depth.

This is ultimately a movie that you feel, rather than think through. Very little, if anything, is explained outright - there are no exposition dumps or flashbacks there to tell us what it all means, so we're left with the unsettling feeling that as bad as what we're seeing is, there is something much worse lurking just out of sight. We spend most of the movie privy to one small part of one small nightmare, but in the back of our heads, we know something else is happening, and it reveals itself quietly, the monster that was there the entire time.

Release information on IMDB


  1. Hey there! I help run a blog about metal that attempts to analyze it from an artistic, academic perspective, and as a fellow fan of horror I find your work a breath of fresh air in a critical community woefully lacking in such carefully constructed analysis. Your writing has been a joy to read, and your recommendations have led me to truly excellent films that I otherwise would never have seen. There's a lot of parallels between our approach to our respective subjects- it's good to find someone else out there with similar views on art to us! As a result of your recommendation, I've decided to review "Pontypool" as the first-ever film review on our blog- hopefully you'll appreciate my analysis of some of its themes.

    I decided to give your blog a plug on mine- horror and heavy metal go together like peanut butter and chocolate, after all, and I have a feeling that our readers would appreciate your work as well.


    Hope you enjoy!

  2. (Watch out, major spoiler!!!!) My review: "A Serbian Film" done right