Kill List Blu-ray Review
Kill List is brought to BD with a Region B-coded AVC transfer. The 2.35:1 image is earthy and sick-looking by design. This is a film that lives by night, by neon and by subdued interior lighting. Or, come the final act, by demonic torchlight and muzzle-flashes. Although I haven't found information supporting it, the film looks to have been shot digitally – detail is maintained with stunning clarity at all times, yet the picture looks remarkably smooth and clean. Texture isn't grainy at all, but depth is terrific and finely three-dimensional. I find it a very appealing and engrossing image.
Detail, as you would expect, is very good throughout. You may even wish that it wasn't considering some of the grievous woundings that take place. Globby bits of squished noggin plastered to a gore-soaked wall, hammer-pummelled fingers and a cleaved-in skull, poking intestines and a clean 9mm exit-point are some of the grim delights served up. But I think I was most impressed – well it made me squirm it was that clear – with the deep slash across Jay's palm. Even running it under the tap made me wince. Facial texture is extremely vivid – warts, liver-spots, lines, crags and wayward whiskers all come to light with alacrity. Clothing texture is also boldly drawn and vivid. Check out the detail and separation in hair and then, at the end, the straw and wicker ritual masks. The food at the dining table is also tremendously realistic looking … as are the fried rabbit-remains, which look remarkably tasty. Distant detail is just as vital – again the province of fine digital photography, which keeps the entire frame in sharp relief. Look at the trees and the far off cars and housing estates. Look at the cult members moving through the woods, or the MP's mansion, complete with the visual effect of an added tower.
Blacks offer a strength and a depth that is vital to the success of the film's more disturbing sequences. The final stretch is absolutely dependant upon solid shadows and unmolested swathes of darkness, and the transfer does not drop the ball. Contrast is fine, though this is a film that has a skewed and desaturated aesthetic, so the overbearing palette is tinged with green and blue. Whites are well presented and don't bloom. Blood and flame-orange are bright and vivid and stand out from the otherwise subdued style of the photography. Natural daylight looks, well, natural and untinkered-with. The drabness of Yorkshire inclemency is well catered-for, then.
I didn't have a problem with edge enhancement, or smearing. There is no overt DNR interfering with the clarity and texture of the image. The flaming torches and low-light surroundings during the frantic last chapter, however, do prove to be a breeding ground for banding, as do some shots of the moon seen poking from behind clouds. I also encountered some very slight aliasing during one or two of the hotel lobby scenes.
Overall, I was very impressed with how Kill List looks on Blu-ray. Some nitpicking with the transfer aside, this makes for a very vivid experience.
We have two lossless mixes to choose from here – either LPCM 2.0 or 5.1 DTS-HD MA. I opted for the surround track and, in the main, wasn't disappointed. The unnerving score from Jim Williams boasts a lot of ambient and tonal mystery and fury. Whenever his music enters the fray, it fills the soundscape with thudding, thumping and highly resonant atmosphere. Considering that the rest of the movie is actually quite restrained, the music can frequently catch you off-guard with its solid, vibrating intensity. It filters around the audio landscape, emanating forcibly from the frontal array, but sweeping in from the surrounds as well to help enshroud you with clammy discord.
You'll notice that I said the rest of the movie is actually quite restrained … well, to be honest, at first I though there was some sort of problem with the either the disc or the mix, itself. Dialogue appears to be very low down and quiet. For a while, I struggled with this before realising that it is certainly how it is meant to sound … because it allows for the enhanced shock-effect when things get either ballistic or just plain nasty. When the characters aren't shouting, they are underplaying their roles and dialogue is, understandably, subdued as a consequence, and naturalistic.
There is a nice bit when we hear an ominous thumping coming from somewhere below us and off to the side. When it is revealed, we find a man's head being slammed repeatedly against a wall. The chanting of cult members is also well directed, heard some way off and then drifting closer and becoming clearer. Clarity of weapons – working parts clicking and clacking, bullets being fired (authentic sound of silenced rounds) and bolts and slides being drawn – is always good and crisp. The meaty blows of a hammer, and some of the slicing of flesh is also convincingly reproduced. The echoes down in the dank tunnel are also well conveyed, with the sound of hurried movement and the stone-chambered and unearthly screaming chillingly conveyed.
Movement around the channels is rarely blindingly overt or highly steered in that big dynamic action movie way, but it always works well, with a fine degree of naturalism, spatiality and inherent smoothness.
My initial concerns were unwarranted. This is a well-designed soundmix that knows when to mumble-along and when to explode. On the whole, I had a great time with it.
Studio Canal's UK BD/DVD Combo of Kill List comes with two commentary tracks.
The first features the filmmaking couple, Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, who naturally discuss how the project came together and what they attempted to say with the story as a combination of crime and horror plotting. However, this is not a particularly informative commentary. The two laugh and joke together almost constantly, and whilst they clearly have a great time sitting there and watching their film, you can't help feeling slightly left out of the fun. Some technical aspects are mentioned, but this is mostly a fondly superficial meandering.
The second boasts the main cast trio of Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley and MyAnna Buring and is certainly the more entertaining of the two chat-tracks. Some similar ground is covered as that by the makers, but this is a more ribald and amusing collective reminiscence. The humour is less self-contained and the group is more accessible and fun to listen to.
The rest of the supplements are a bit rough and ready and somewhat disappointing.
The Making of Kill List lasts for about 7 ½ minutes and is really just an abstract montage of location scouting, camera set-ups, makeup applications and on-set paraphernalia. This is all set to the film's edgy score and does not feature any contextual information delivered to us about what is going on.
Then we have a trio of separate meetings.
Interview with Ben Wheatley is 6 minutes spent learning the origins of the Kill List as it evolved from Down Terrace, and how the husband-and-wife team get along whilst writing. He mentions the keep 'em guessing structure of the plot, how he wanted the violence to come across, the gallows humour, the casting but nothing about the overall arc of the tale and, subsequently, its oddball denouement.
Interview with Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring. This lasts for ten minutes. The pair are happy to chat and discuss their involvement, bigging-up how much they like working with Wheatley and how they were drawn to the three-dimensionality of the characters. Although Maskell plays the main character, it is Buring who possibly chews the most fat, but both are refreshingly laid back and down to earth. However there is a sense that the duo are struggling to pad things out here.
Interview with Claire Jones and Andrew Starke. These two are the film's producers and, once again, there is little that is actually productive to be gleaned from this 7-minute snippet, other than the basics of working with Wheatley, the origins of the story and on getting along with the cast. Claire Jones looks like a real nervous flirt to me. I have to admit that I stopped paying attention to what was being said, just to watch her. Nice.
We also get the film's Trailer as well as some those for a couple of other Studio Canal releases.
I think that more could have been done with this release. A bit like I feel about the movie, itself, I have come away from these extras with a fondness for all those involved, but with a sense of dissatisfaction too.
As much as I like Ben Wheatley's hit-man thriller-chiller, I cannot fathom why some critics are citing it as a masterpiece or an instant cult film. It is simply too derivative to be the former, and too awkwardly genre-colliding to be the latter. But, I must stress that Kill List is still terrific entertainment from someone who I truly feel has a rare gift for filmmaking. With only two movies to his credit so far, his confidence and audacity has grown immeasurably, and his spy-on-the-wall style of naturalism is surely a winning one.
With Kill List he has brought the occult back into play with a vengeance, certainly living up to his celebrated namesake of Dennis Wheatley. He creates a story of immense moral darkness and suffuses it with an evil that makes this fate-bound odyssey eerie, compelling and blisteringly savage. I, personally like the finale, but I also understand that a little bit more care with the screenplay would have paid dividends. As it stands, it is clumsily achieved and not wholly satisfying.
Studio Canal bring this creepy catalogue of unsavoury people meeting unsavoury ends to Blu-ray with a finely detailed transfer and an audio mix that seems to deliberately wrong-foot you just as much as the film's story does. Talky, suburban angst lulls you until the violence kicks in … and then you'll know all about it. Of the two commentary tracks only one is worth listening to, and the interviews and the making-of are sketchy to say the least. So, overall, this is a let-down in the extras department. But there is no mistaking the fact that this release is definitely worth adding to your own, ahem, Kill List … just so that you can strike it off with a suitably satanic symbol once you've got it.
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