Posts Tagged ‘Kill List’

“It’s like we all silently decided to cross a line” bemoans High-Rise‘s central, well-to-do temptress, Charlotte (Sienna Miller) half-way through Ben Wheatley’s latest film, and it is no exaggeration.

Adapting J.G Ballard is no mean feat and it has previously required the strength of Spielberg, or Cronenberg to do him justice. Luckily, High-Rise, a project in the works virtually since the novel’s release in 1975 – due to producer Jeremy Thomas’ insistence on creating an adaptation – is in safe hands with the relatively young (in filmmaking terms) Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has acquired a cult following after his work on small indie films (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England) and High-Rise is his biggest-budget project to date. His darkly comic (and often violent) tone is a highly suitable approach for a J.G Ballard adaptation, a writer who – particularly throughout the 70s and 80s – was known for a similar style.

In a Q&A after tonight’s screening, Wheatley expressed how his involvement with this project was down to a chance meeting with producer Jeremy Thomas, after assuming the rights would be held by a Hollywood conglomerate. As a result, Wheatley was able to access the resources and star-power not previously available to him, to create a highly stylish, 70’s infused dystopian thriller in the same vein as the source material. Wheatley has expressed a desire to remain faithful to the “highly visual” nature of the novel, ignoring all previous screenplay attempts at this adaptation.

High-Rise begins in relative order. We are introduced to the titular housing project through new tenant Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into the 25th floor of the 40 story building in which the “cream of the crop” live at the top and the working class tenants live at the bottom. Laing meets his neighbours from all levels of the tower block, establishing varying relationships with all of them.

Then, as Charlotte’s premonition predicts, everything turns into chaos, narratively and structurally, through a nightmarish kaleidoscopic montage sequence, halfway through the film’s running time. It is a disorientating effect, as we go through the looking glass into a newly established disorder, where everyone looks to protect themselves with their varying means of defence.

Wheatley expertly keeps control of an all-star cast including Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss and an excellent turn from Luke Evans as a George Best meets Evil Dead‘s Ash lower-class rebel, who leads the charge against the upper floors. In what becomes an anarchic orgy of sex and violence, Wheatley always maintains the narrative’s satirical and darkly comic tone throughout, never losing focus despite the carnage – especially during the film’s final reveal.

High-Rise is an extremely successful tribute to 70’s sci-fi, brimming with excellent performances and design and references to films such as A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse, Now. It highlights the burgeoning mania of “modern living” with a post-modern view on Thatcherite politics that continue to prevail today.

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In light of the British Government’s Film Industry Review and David Cameron’s comments about Britain’s need to compete with Hollywood by producing more mainstream films, it is interesting to consider the theatrical release of Steve McQueen’s Shame, the other key British filmic event of last week. Shame is not by definition a mainstream film, but it is one that has garnered significant interest from both the media and the public in the UK and the USA. The film has become something of a sensation, presumably for two reasons – firstly it’s taboo subject matter of sex addiction and secondly the quality of its execution.

Sex addiction is not a subject that springs to mind when talking about box office success, but Shame had a very successful debut weekend in the states taking $361,181 in just 10 screens. This was the third best limited debut for an NC-17 film ever (following Bad Education and Lust, Caution). This tells us that audiences (specifically American audiences) are happy to pay for British films if they offer something challenging and unique. It’s opening weekend in the UK saw it selling out screens across the capital, with numerous screens in art house cinemas and multiplexes.

Following David Cameron’s statement last Wednesday the Guardian reported how former culture secretary Lord Smith, who is head of a panel evaluating the British film industry, proposed to take a significantly more tactful approach to the industry. With the release of Shame this seems appropriate. The tactic was to market the British film as a brand of quality assurance. Veteran director Stephen Frears reacted to this notion saying: “This country has been making intelligent films, films that are different from American films, for some time… If Lord Smith is now to say we need to keep doing more of the same, rather than trying to recreate Hollywood over here, that sounds eminently sensible.”

Becoming a brand of quality assurance is something that seems natural for British film to achieve at this point in time. With recent films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kill List, Dreams of a Life, Senna, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The King’s Speech and of course Shame Britain is all set to put a stamp of individuality on the international film scene. It is a question of successfully marketing these projects to an audience outside Britain and developing the stamp of quality for years to come. With the talent currently emerging within the British film industry this seems achievable.

It is greatly encouraging to see the British government taking a serious interest in the film industry as part of the British economy. However, the notion that the British industry should attempt to emulate Hollywood by predicting what will earn the most money seems misguided. While The King’s Speech has been regularly discussed as a shining example of British box office success, it is important to remember that this was not a result of market research, but instead it was an independent film that captured the heart and minds of critics and cinema-goers.

As Shame shows us, British film has the capacity to tackle challenging human subjects with artistic and commercial credibility. Star of the film Michael Fassbender is now a significant Hollywood player, but it is important to remember where he came from. Shame director Steve McQueen’s previous film Hunger also starred Fassbender; this film is where Fassbender really made a name for himself. Britain must continue to provide talent like Fassbender the opportunity to shine in films like Hunger and Shame, because these films can make money and be more than a product of market research at the same time.

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Kill List looks set to put its director, Ben Wheatley on the map as a British feature film director. The film which utilises the tried structure of a hitman hired to do one last job, cleverly plays with genre expectations to create a film that lingers with an unsettling atmosphere and a few strong twists and turns up its sleeve. It brings together elements of perhaps the best of British cinema, with a realist tone in its performances and cinematography and a mood reminiscent of some of the most sinister British horror films.

Neil Maskell plays Jay, a onetime hitman who has been unemployed for eight months, while attempting to go straight. The increasing pressure to provide for his family comes to a head when he is offered work by best friend Gal (Michael Smiley). As the title suggests he has a list of people to kill, but as the list progresses he finds himself and the situations he faces becoming increasingly out of control. To say too much about the development of the plot would be to give away the effective set of surprises it has in store. Let’s just say that when Jay says “they’re bad people, they should suffer” after making a hit, the words take on a personal significance that he doesn’t yet realise.

The only criticism I have for Kill List is that it ends too abruptly. Wheatley sets up such a strong premise that the last act had an enormous potential for suspense, which was not explored to its full potential. This is not to say that the film is not successful in terms of scares (it absolutely is), but there could have been a few more for the masochists among us. Unsurprising for a low budget British feature Kill List runs at around 90 minutes; perhaps with a slightly longer runtime Wheatley could have made an even stronger impact. With Kill List Ben Wheatley has established himself as a director to watch, albeit not for the faint of heart.

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