Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Andrew O'Hehir: A Clever British Horror-Thriller Nods to Tarantino

A clever British horror-thriller nods to Tarantino
By Andrew O'Hehir

Ben Wheatley's "Kill List" is part recession-era drama, part violent insanity

Ben Wheatley certainly isn’t the only filmmaker who built his reputation making wannabe-viral video clips for the Internet, but he might be the most talented one, and the one who’s made the most impressive transition to the big screen. A 39-year-old from suburban London, Wheatley will perhaps never attain the heights of popular success he hit in 2005 with a 10-second video titled “Cunning Stunt” (it’s a spoonerism — get it?), which I should not spoil in case you haven’t seen it. Go ahead, the rest of us will wait. Honestly, the combination of good cheer, cleverness and outright cruelty achieved in “Cunning Stunt” pretty much tells you what you need to know about Wheatley. You’ll either conclude, hell yeah, I want to watch whatever that dude makes next, or you’ll say get me the Sam Hill out of here. In either case, I understand.

Wheatley’s debut feature, “Down Terrace,” was a bizarre, bleak and hilarious blend of genres, starting out as a Mike Leigh-style working-class family drama and ending up as an especially gruesome “Sopranos” episode, transported to the south coast of England. Let me introduce “Kill List,” Wheatley’s highly touted second film, by admitting that I’m infinitesimally disappointed that it’s not as funny as “Down Terrace” (though it definitely has its moments) and also that he’s gone so deep into the tradition of creepazoid British genre movies. (Rather than, you know, making the kind of depressing, no-audience films I like better.) But there’s no disputing the ingenuity and even the brilliance of this mind-bending mashup, which begins as a gritty recession-era marriage drama — the opening scene features a couple arguing about whether they have the money to get the Jacuzzi fixed — and then descends into ominous violence and finally total insanity.

I suppose you could say that the way Wheatley splices incompatible kinds of movies together into one story, like some demented mad scientist, has an Internet-age flavor to it. But that’s not something entirely new, and he actually comes off more as a hardcore fan of British independent and low-budget cinema, who loves the kitchen-sink realism of the ’60s and also loves a bunch of well-known horror movies and thrillers that I’d better not mention right now. Love it or hate it, “Kill List” is a definite widescreen cinematic experience loaded with delicious details, from the hotel clerk who holds a conversation without really listening to the sound of someone getting his brains beaten out against a concrete wall. He’s like a faux-Cockney Quentin Tarantino, passionate about the things he loves and also dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of “taking the piss” — and believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment.

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