Friday, March 09, 2012

New British Indies: Kill List and Tyrannosaur (w/ ending discussion)

Even before sitting down for Tyrannosaur, I kind of figured on grouping these two movies together; they're both lower-budgeted British movies that happened to play Boston on the same weekend. As the titles started for Tyrannosaur, though, I was struck by how both these movies were coming from the same groups. The UK Film Council (Awarding Funds from the National Lottery!) is almost a given when seeing a British film these days, and the Film Four logo shows up an awful lot as well, but Screen Yorkshire is rather specific, as is production company Warp X. And then when they had certain structural similarities...

Not huge ones, mind you; things aren't a whole lot closer than any two random stories. But both have a man prone to bursts of anger at the center, starting off with examples of that rage getting out of control and ending with a fairly shocking finale. It's those endings that merit a little discussion, but we'll leave that until after the EFC reviews.

Kill List

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run/IFFBoston Presents, 35mm)

Movies like Kill List are relatively rare; while there are few individual things in the movie that someone buying a ticket for such a movie hasn't seen before, the combination of ingredients is unusual. And not just in what's combined, the way they are put together is sometimes even more peculiar. Considering how frequently rote the hitman drama genre can be, different is a very good thing.

The assassin in question is Jay (Neil Maskell), who still feels like he needs to recover mentally and physically from a botched job in Kiev eight months ago. This extended "recovery" - which includes a fair amount of drinking and pills - is putting a tremendous strain on his marriage to Shel (MyAnna Buring), leading to some ugly fights in front of their son Sam (Harry Simpson). So maybe, when Jay's partner Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) come for a dinner party, it's time to get back out there. So they meet a new client, who gives them a list of three people - but there's something very strange going on from the start.

Kill List is the new movie by Ben Wheatley, last seen on the festival circuit with Down Terrace, and it's immediately clear that it shares a lot of DNA with that movie. Both sit squarely in the Venn Diagram intersection between "crime" and "yelling family" movies, with what seems like a decided slant toward the latter at first. And as a portrait of a volatile marriage and family, it's pretty fantastic. Wheately and company spend the first third of the picture making it very difficult to form a simple opinion on Jay's and Shel's relationship, switching between caustic screaming matches and quiet moments of support in such a way as to keep the audience from getting too comfortable. The eruptions and deflations happen fast, but this seems perfectly keeping with who these two are, both in general and at this specific point.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2012 in the Museum of Fine Arts Alfond Auditorium (Special Engagement, 35mm)

Paddy Considine's first feature as writer and director packs a wallop at both ends, and is pretty impressive in between as well. It's absolutely the sort of movie an actor makes, with meaty roles for its stars to dive into and plenty of one-on-one time. It's a pretty darn great actors' movie, though it's far from a carefree hour and a half.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man almost consumed by rage. We see three examples of it right off the bat, and it's after the third one blows up in his face that he ducks into a charity shop to hide. The shop is being manned by Hannah (Olivia Colman), who approaches him with amazing calm and kindness. Cruelty surrounds them - Joseph's best friend is dying of cancer, the boy who lives next door (Samuel Bottomley) is tormented by his mother's boyfriend, and Olivia's husband James (Eddie Marsan) is himself prone to expressing his jealousy in nasty ways.

Cruel is perhaps the best way to describe the world in which Joseph, Hannah, and company live; idleness and lack of means don't create the sort of situations that kill people, but rather the ones that chip away at their dignity and create a status quo that feels inescapable - even spending time with friends doesn't seem to lift the spirits. Heck, the most joy seems to come during a funeral - one man's suffering is over, and the other characters have a reason to dwell on happier times.

Full review at EFC.

Discussion of the ends of the movies from here on out! You have been warned!

Kill List's ending has gotten a fair amount of attention, even if it has been of the "don't let anybody tell you the ending!" variety. I think I avoided that as well as I could, which was tough, because it kind of bugged me.

First, let me just say - I've never seen The Wicker Man. Either version. Which was kind of awkward at Fantasia last year, because Robin Hardy was in town and practically everybody I talked to was acting like it was a really huge deal. And while I don't know how much Kill List draws from that specifically, the cult that's ultimately behind everything seems to be drawing from the same roots. Maybe it's just me, but this sort of Celtic/Druidic thing seems to be showing up a lot more, and I don't get it. Does the symbol Fiona draws on the back of the mirror have significance? Is killing his wife and son part of some specific ritual that British folks, for whom this is a more direct part of the culture, would see as significant?

Because if not... well, it leaves a taste in my mouth I don't know if I really like. What's the in-story point? Sure, there's an argument that it's a symbolic fit - the job and giving into his anger eventually leads to Jay destroying his family. Why's this important to the cult, though? Are they just monsters for the sake of being monsters? Are they meaning to break Jay to build him into their weapon or so he'll serve as some sort of example or demonstration? We're not ever given much of a glimpse of any greater purpose to this, which is fine on one hand - we're seeing it from Jay's point of view - but it's a bit unsatisfying, an unearned worst-case-scenario. Dark-for-the-sake-of-dark has a bit of limited appeal.

The end of Tyrannosaur, meanwhile, is just as horrific in its way - the scene of Joseph making his way through the house, key between his fingers as a reminder of both how hardscrabble and potentially overmatched he can be, and eventually finding James's not-fresh corpse, is fantastic, and the two hits after that are gut-punches: I initially thought James had committed suicide, but finding out Hannah was responsible was obviously devastating to Joseph, and the dog attack and Joseph's retribution feel like the whole world collapsing.

It's an earned collapse, though; Hannah seems to absorb the worst of Joseph's anger rather than Joseph gaining her kindness. But Considine lets things run just a bit longer to show that it's at least focused violence, and that after bottoming out, the pair have confronted the anger and fear in their souls - and faced the consequences of their actions - and aren't alone any more.

Which is earned, too. And that's why I think Kill List stumbles at the end while Tyrannosaur achieves something really impressive: Not just because Tyrannosaur is as upbeat as an ending with that sort of carnage can be, but because that raw ending is the logical result of everything that came before, while Kill List is a "gotcha!" that doesn't seem quite as organic as it should.

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