Kill List was definitely one of the more striking films of last year, a British genre-defying one-off that melded grim down-to-earth drama, even grimmer hitman thriller and none-more-grim nightmare horror. Two former soldiers-turned-hitmen, played by Neil Maskell and Spaced’s Michael Smiley, take on a new assignment that becomes weirder and weirder the more they get involved. I wouldn’t want to give anything else away, but you won’t see the ending coming. When I first saw it last year, Kill List was unpleasant but gripping, bleak but morbidly funny, and superbly acted and directed. The first time you watch it, it’s so good that you don’t mind the seemingly unexplainable plot twists because, you know, it’s probably something you missed first time round, and that on a second viewing, it’ll all start to fall into place. Right? Not even close. Re-watching Kill List, it’s still a mightily effective experience, but I found myself less forgiving towards the – and there’s no way to sugarcoat it – big fat plotholes. Now, horror and rational explanations aren’t normally a good thing. What would you prefer, the Halloween that kept everything in the dark, or the Halloween that felt the need to explain just why Michael Myers ended up being such a naughty boy? I know which I prefer, but in the case of Kill List, the genre shifts feel almost bolted on, just a way of changing a standard crime storyline into something else, just to keep us interested. It’s sad but true that Kill List’s story promises much but then doesn’t really deliver, instead moving into horror-movie territory because, well, it’s crazy and unpredictable, yeah? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still mostly impressed by this film, and the two leads are really brilliant – Maskell switches from downtrodden husband to lethal killer with frightening believability, while Smiley manages to take the character of a killer and make him quite sympathetic – but in the end, it doesn’t quite hang together as well as I’d hope.
Still, I’d take an ambitious, flawed film like Kill List over a more modest, but ultimately average horror like Carriers, a passably watchable post-apocalyptic drama from a few years back about two brothers – one gentle and nice, the other arrogant and a bit of a dick, along with their respective lady friends, as they drive their way towards nowhere, just hoping to survive a contagious epidemic that has you coming out in gory sores and blood-spattered coughing fits. Chris Pine is the dickhead brother – this is before he played a lovable but ultimately arrogant, slightly dickhead-ish Captain Kirk in Star Trek, and a dickhead train driver in Unstoppable – I haven’t seen This Means War yet, but he might be a dickhead in that too. Pattern forming. Still, he plays this role well, and there are some good shocks, though it’s over before you know it, and the ending seems to give you the impression that the film was really about the sibling rivalry between two disparate brothers, but since I spent more time flinching at the occasional gooey scare than worrying too much about the characters, the downbeat ending didn’t really deliver as much on the pathos front as it would have liked to have done. Still, a fairly watchable film.
The hype for Gareth Huw Edwards’ The Raid has been quietly phenomenal, with talk of it being the best action film since god knows when, bold comparisons made with Die Hard and Hard Boiled, etc, but this is not in the same league. The plot is very, very simple. A SWAT squadron ambush a Jakarta tower block which is the HQ of a drug dealer, but they find themselves way in over their head when the block turns out to be crammed with high-kicking lethal killers. There’s a bit of double-crossing, some sibling rivalry with a pair of wildly opposite brothers and shock-horror, a woman appears at the start. However, she’s pregnant and in snoozing in bed, so she doesn’t get to do anything interesting. The rest of the film is all action, and it is very violent indeed. Almost everyone here is a martial arts expert, so the fights are insanely complex and go on forever. The main characters are also virtually indestructible, taking multiple elbows to the ribs, head-smacks, back-bashes and all manner of physical punishment without flinching. Oh, they bleed, they sweat, they bruise and so forth, but come ON! These guys are like robots, and the fights are ludicrously overlong – it just feels like watching someone else play a dodgy copy of Street Fighter II where the life bar is 100 times longer and the countdown starts at three hours. After a while, you just get numbed to it all. Despite reports of The Raid being a real game-changer, it isn’t really that new. Visceral and hyper-kinetic fight scenes have been done before, and the only thing The Raid brings to the table is that there’s so much more of it than in any other film. However, it just gets too much, and almost becomes…. well, boring. It’s difficult to root too much for the characters since nearly all of the SWAT team don’t have anything in the way of distinctive personalities (or even names); it’s difficult to know what’s happening to whom, or to care much either. The ones that do have names are stock stereotypes, totally unmemorable – the sadistic drug baron, the noble brother/deadbeat brother, the treacherous and cowardly cop (though admittedly he’s the only one to enter the raid without protective headgear, so he’s a bit of a tough nut). Of course, things like character development are clearly going to be secondary in a film like this, but I just wanted something, anything to help bring some multi-dimensionality to the proceedings. It’s also a totally humourless film, though the sheer brutality of the violence does end up crossing the line and become funny. The insistence of high-volume impact becomes monotonous, even if the fight scenes, taken individually, are spectacularly vicious, with the odd moment of outrageous nastiness making you double-take. I really wanted to like this, but I was underwhelmed.