Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Drive

Ryan Gosling is: The Driver. 

If you have a nameless protagonist, your film is automatically propelled into the realm of 'cool'. And Gosling's almost silent, bad ass hero is most certainly a cool motherfucker. A stunt driver / mechanic by day, and getaway driver for hire by night, Driver's world is lit up when he meets his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio. Like all good 'boy meets girl' stories, sparks fly. Irene, though, is married, and her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) is about to get out of prison. Meanwhile, Driver's mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston) has worked out a deal with 'legitimate businessmen' Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) to get his protegee racing at a professional capacity. This isn't going to be a smooth ride, though, and soon feces is hurtling its way towards the industrial strength fan.

Let me preface the following criticisms with the assertion that, in general, I rather enjoyed Drive. The star of the show is director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has conjured up one of this year's most distinctive films stylistically. Drive is beautifully retro: a film that truly understands the cheesy 80s film it is so clearly paying homage to. Even the credits are rendered in bright pink fonts straight out of the cheesiest decade of 'em all. It's the soundtrack that is particularly electrifying, and used sparingly: the memorable, catchy synth rock only kicks in when it's truly needed. Add to this some stunning cinematography (including masterfully long tracking shots and slow motion), a welcome fondness for silence (a rare film that shows rather than tells when it comes to characters) and some brilliant setpieces. Indeed, the opening sequence is a tour-de-force: a getaway 'chase' where the soundtrack menacingly hums, and the only dialogue is coming from the Driver's police radio. It's a wonderful, tense and spine-tingling introduction. As a standalone scene, it's perhaps the best of recent times.

A quick mention of the cast is also due. Gosling plays it cool, his distinctive Brooklyn accent only apparent on the rare occasions he decides to speak. When he does, the script dictates he be blunt, to the point and monosyllabic where possible. While his 'considered' pauses can drag on a few moments too long, overall he makes for a great enigma of a protagonist. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame is typically wonderful in his portrayal of innocent desperation, although he's somewhat underused. Mulligan, I'm not really sure what to make of. She's a fine actress, no doubt, but the chemistry between her and Gosling is almost non-existent. And in a way that's on purpose. Kudos are due, though, to Christina Hendricks for accepting an unglamorous minor role that is as far from her stylish Mad Men persona as possible. But acting wise Brooks is the star: a man with a strange sense of righteousness, yet one utterly unafraid to get his hands dirty to protect his interests. Ron Perlman seems like a mere caricature next to him, and that's some feat.

However, there's one major flaw that kept bothering me throughout the film: I personally think Drive is extremely hollow. And, yes, that's sort of the point. This is a distinctively style over substance film. But the plot just goes through the motions. All the bells & whistles Refn piles on consistently attempt to disguise the fact that this is merely a dumb thriller, with most of the plot beats predictable and formulaic. So while the senses were most certainly hypnotised (and the infrequent bursts of visceral action certainly act as a nice counterpoint to the considered silences), Drive's narrative for me sort of went beyond merely being shallow to the point when some bits were just dumb. Stopping and thinking here is a pretty bad idea. Apparently the book it's based on is extremely short, and it shows. Drive is in no rush to get to its final destination. On one hand, this helps lend the film its individual and likable sense of pacing. On the other, one could easily argue it's because the destination isn't worth getting to.

That said, for many lack of substance will be what sets the film apart. Overall, as an experience, it remains extremely distinctive. I just wouldn't go as far as some of the critical hyperbole out there: the frequent cries of 'existential thriller' are giving the plot a bit too much credit. Drive has a (mostly) great cast, and Refn has a unique and engaging sense of pace, place and atmosphere. Yet the formulaic, overstretched story is the one thing that stops Drive from being truly great. As is, it's merely a damn good ride. Surely, for many, that will be more than enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Attack the Block

Aliens, innit? 

I can't deny I've become increasingly cynical towards genre films over the last year or two. I'm always up for something entertaining, but at the risk of sounding terribly elitist, less and less is able to provide those 'turn off your brain' kicks. There are quite a few, for sure: Serenity, Star Trek, Super 8 and other films that may or may not begin with the letter 'S'. But they seem increasingly rare. Maybe I'm just odd, but having heard many announce the IMO merely decent Rise of the Planet of the Apes as film of the year (seriously?) I often wonder if I should lower my standards.

Before I consider that radical solution, I'm glad to add Attack the Block to the realms of superior fun. It sounds like it shouldn't work: I'm not a massive fan of director Joe Cornish's comedy output with cohort Adam Buxton, and the concept of an alien invasion film set in inner city London isn't the most inspiring of setups (and, post 28 Days Later / Shaun of the Dead, not entirely original). But, against the odds, it works.

We begin with a mugging, as you do. It's Guy Fawkes night, and Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is robbed at knife point by a group of five hooded teens led by Moses (John Boyega). Sam manages to escape when an extraterrestial object blows up a nearby car. The teens, though, decide to check out the wreckage. Out pops a wee but aggressive alien, who proceeds to maul Moses. Angered, the kids decide to kick the shit out of it. Cue one dead alien. They haul the corpse back to their apartment block as a trophy. But they soon regret it. Soon, more aggressive alien things arrive in the area, and they seem to have their eyes (well, they don't technically have eyes) on Moses and co. Not helping matters are the police and a disgruntled drug dealer (Jumayn Hunter). So the kids arm up, reluctantly team up with a disgruntled Sam, and set out to kick more alien ass.

There's a few chuckles in Attack the Block, but for the most part Cornish plays it straight. This is a good thing. The result are some superb performances, clever aesthetics and setpieces that drip with tension. The design of the aliens is magnificent - pitch black, featureless fur with glowing blue neon teeth. The result are creatures that aren't invisible, but all the more terrifying when you see those glowing fangs in the distance. The memorable aliens are a stark contrast to the over-thought monstrosities that unconvinced in Cloverfield and Super 8 - CGI used thoughtfully, for a change. Setpieces are largely relegated to the 'block', but full of visual invention. A bike/scooter chase, a smoky corridor, cramped apartments - Cornish gets the most out of his setting, and creates a monster film that's terrifically tense and engaging in the process. I'll admit that it's a little convenient the teens have access to a samurai sword alongside the more credible likes of fireworks, kitchen knives and baseball bats, but we'll let them away with it given the badassery that ensues.

Kudos must be given to the main actors, who do an absolutely terrific job. It's a hard sell when we're introduced to our slang-hurling protagonists as they mug an innocent civilian. But the five of 'em - Boyega,  Franz Drameh,  Leeon Jones,  Alex Esmail and Simon Howard - do a fine job. The fear is they'll be your typical hooded ne'er-do-wells, but aside from the occasional moment of indecipherable slang they all have a distinctly unique character. They're written and directed affectionately rather than critically. When the danger level predictably increases, you'll be hard pressed not to be rooting for 'em, and Cornish isn't a director who gives all of them easy passes. Whittaker is grand as the token female, although I'll admit Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway could easily have been excised from their supporting roles without a major impact to the plot one way or t'other. Even at a running time that barely passes the eighty minute mark, their roles feel like unnecessary fluff, especially Frost who is clearly present to add a marquee name.

Cornish never strays far from genre tropes here, which some may consider a bad thing (for all the positive feedback this film has received, there's also been quite a bit of negativity). But he quietly subverts as he goes along. A particularly nice touch was bringing the old 'phone out of battery' cliche into the modern world with characters who run out of credit. The film is short of social commentary considering the setting, but there are a few clever digs along the way - one of the teens Pest wryly comments on how violent video games and rap music are definitely not responsible for their new found action hero status. The film doesn't judge, and doesn't condescend. The backgrounds of the characters are carefully, ambiguously referenced in an excitingly edited sequence where all the kids return home to arm up: there are no in-your-face attempts to explain their delinquency. The setting feels honest and realistic as a result. Well, as realistic as you can get when a bunch of kids are fighting off glowing aliens.

Add an energetic score from Steven Price (with contributions from the likes of Massive Attack) and you have the makings of a great contemporary alien invasion flick. There are problems: the aforementioned slang, a sometimes distracting fondness for name-checking pop culture, some redundant subplots and characters. And I was a tiny bit uncomfortable with the fact that, for a film with an admirably mature approach to race, all the white characters get off a little too easy. But otherwise Attack the Block moves along at a frantic, involving pace from beginning to end. It's well directed, well acted and well intentioned. Most of all it's fun. And when you're dealing with a film like this, isn't that all that really matters?

Review - Kaboom

Sex, Drugs and the End of the World

Back in the early 90s, director Gregg Arkai released a number of (what are considered by many to be) definitive Generation X movies - films like Nowhere, Totally Fucked Up and the Doom Generation. Most of them featured an actor named James Duval. I haven't seen them, but Richard Kelly did. They had a big influence on him: their attitude and tone influencing his one and only 'success' (and possible fluke, going by the vastly inferior director's cut) Donnie Darko. He acknowledged his debt to Arkai by casting Duval in one of the film's most pivotal roles as Frank: the iconic, nightmarish bunny rabbit. Now, after a more cerebral excursion with the superb Mysterious Skin and a diversion to stoner comedy with Smiley Face, Arkai returns to his Gen X roots with Kaboom. This time, however, he has added supernatural elements. Duval is back too, as a character named Messiah who shows up with a crown of thorns at one point. Unfortunately, like many reviewers, I couldn't get Donnie Darko out of my head, because here the imitated becomes the inferior imitator.

The more I think about it, the more pronounced the similarities to Kelly's opus are. The film stars Thomas Dekker (am I the only one who's a bit freaked out by his resemblance to Casey Affleck? Just me?) as Smith, a sexually 'undeclared' teenager experiencing recurring and possibly precognitive nightmares. There's freaky, possibly hallucinated, guys wearing animal masks. There's a mysterious book that helps describe the ever weirder happenings. There are vague references to the end of the world. There are irreverent pop-cultural discussions. There's also a witch. Okay, Donnie Darko didn't have a witch.

In fairness, it takes a while for Kaboom to truly drift towards the supernatural. The strangeness is there from the beginning, but they just seem like playful quirks in what is otherwise a light-hearted sex romp. Smith lusts after his surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) while engaging in casual sex with the eccentric, hyperactive London (Juno Temple) and infrequent rendezvous with strangers on nudist beaches. Meanwhile, his lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is in a messy relationship with the potentially psychopathic witch Lorelei (Roxanne Mesquida). Plus, there's a girl who was possibly murdered by costumed cultists, but Arkai will get back to you on that.

The sex is handled playfully, with plenty of flesh, albeit in a shall we say 'tame' manner. It's not Shortbus, that's for sure - it's rated 15s and over here in Ireland, so there's a lot of above waist nudity. But these are absurdly attractive people (particularly the gorgeous Bennett and Temple) having inconsequential intercourse with other absurdly attractive people. Sure, barely any of them can act - although Dekker makes a likable protagonist - but it's throwaway, confidently camp fun for a while. Less successful are Arkai's attempts to emulate his slangy vernacular from his early work. I don't know about you, but I grimaced hard when Bennet utters the sentence 'What the shit is going on?'. Like much of the dialogue here, it feels wooden and hardly rolls off the tongues of the actors. Real people do not speak like this, and fictional people shouldn't either. Similarly, the references to 'hip' culture wear thin. While the soundtrack is hit-and-miss with its wide selection of critically acclaimed hipster music, the more vocal references and name-checking of pop culture is entirely miss. "I got your email from the Explosions in the Sky facebook page". Indeed.

The early flaws are easy to ignore as you go along with the campy fun and Arkai's casual yet endearing direction - it's a film full of colour, and the low budget cinematography is often disguised by quick bursts of invention. The flaws, unfortunately, only become more pronounced in the third act shift towards straight science fiction. It simply doesn't work. Any curiosities the early mysteries evoked are rendered obsolete as Arkai explains every single one of them away in increasingly forced, blunt and uninteresting ways. Coincidences here are merely lazy contrivances, and even attempts to shock - there's a brief, unnecessary allusion to a possibly incestuous twist - feel half-assed. There's lots of stuff about cults, messiahs and other supernatural shenanigans, but it's about as subtle as a brick to the face, and about as enjoyable. A ludicrous, exposition-heavy final ten minutes sees the film at its very worst, and seriously threatens to undo all the good that came before.

In Arkai's defense, he doesn't take things too seriously, and tongue is in cheek throughout. It's almost like a bubbly, sex-filled cartoon. But Kaboom is two disparate genres - sex comedy and supernatural thriller - unsatisfactorily combined, especially since one is more effective than the other. The result is a disappointingly scattershot film that isn't as clever as it wants to be. In Donnie Darko, the supernatural story was beautifully integrated with the teenage angst. Here, it's shoddily superglued on.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Few of My Favourite Scenes 3 - End of Evangelion

Live Action Interlude

Before we begin, it's important to understand the phenomenon of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the television show that precedes this feature film. To say it was popular in Japan is an understatement. From first airing back in 1995-96, the show has been a perennial obsession for Japanese otaku. The female characters have become 'fan service' icons, and even today Japanese businesses - from convenience stores to arcades - are chock full of Evangelion merchandise (biscuits, figurines, lunchboxes, video games, and much more).

But fans were furious with the way the series ended. For various reasons - budget problems and financial mismanagement included - animation studio Gaimax and Evangelion auteur Hideki Anno had to cut corners as they rushed the last few episodes to broadcast. The results were two final episodes that almost entirely took place in the mind of series protagonist Shinji. Not helping matters was Death & Rebirth: a theatrical film released a year after the obtuse, ambiguous conclusion to Neon Genesis. Consisting of a rushed hour long 'recap' and the first half of a 'real life' alternative ending, Gaimax once again ran out of cash. The otaku revolted, even going as far as spray painting hate messages on Gaimax offices (messages that would subliminally be inserted into End of Evangelion). The grim, shocking 'Rebirth' (opening with Shinji masturbating over the unconscious Asuka, and a vast majority of main characters being cruelly dispatched throughout the 'episode') was not the hyperactive, fan service laden finale fans lusted after.

But, pray tell, are fans really worth listening to all the time? It's a question addressed in a rather brilliant live action interlude in End of Evangelion, the film that continues with the ending established in Rebirth. Indeed, the first forty five minutes (or one 'episode') of EoE is Rebirth itself.

I'm not going to be able to sum up the admittedly rather convoluted central narrative of the series and film here. Just some a quick establishing synopsis. Basically, a mysterious group called SEELE have initiated something known as the Human Instrumentality Project, which assumes humanity has reached the peak of its evolutionary potential and in order to further advance it needs to return to the primordial soup they came from. The alternative is extinction. Heavy, right? And it's nowhere near that simple. But anyway: series protagonist Shinji, deep in a debilitating depression that reflects Anno's own depression, is the one who gets to decide what to do with humanity. Piloting his EVA (the semi-organic mech suits that lend the series its name) he transcends humanity and becomes a divine being. Humanity is quite literally in his hands, all humans having turned to orange goop and their souls released into the atmosphere.


Anyway, a lot of this takes place in what could easily be the most beautifully, hypnotically filmed action sequence ever illustrated. But after a while, we dive into Shinji's head to see how he's negotiating the final decision he has to make. And, suddenly, there's a live action sequence. Accompanied by Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring we see shots of Tokyo, crowds and - most importantly - an audience sitting in a cinema screen (a screen that's later empty). Over this, Shinji and the now equally divine Rei negotiate concepts of dreams and reality.

What does it all mean? Like much of End of Evangelion - talk to any fan and you'll surely get a very different reading of the film - it's up for debate. But this is my take on it. Obviously, it fits tightly within the wider themes of the film and series as a whole, as Shinji struggles to understand his place in the world. But this sequence goes further. It seems to me a very considered attempt to comment on the nature of fandom and the way an audience consumes someone's creation.

Over two interlapping shots of an audience, a subtitle pops up on the screen: "Does it feel good?". Boldly, Anno breaks the fourth wall and wonders if the ending the audience are being presented with lives up to their expectations. Maybe not. In one of my favourite quotes about the film, Carlos Ross says: "The second half of the movie is so incoherent and obtuse that it completely loses the mainstream audience (and in fact, virtually any audience) this series has attracted before. It goes beyond art film and beyond anime. And in doing so, it goes beyond the audience's capability to understand and be entertained, which defeats the purpose of something labeled as entertainment." I completely disagree, but it's a fascinating quote. The film simply has to be obtuse to make the points it wants to make (I also think its so profoundly beautiful that it transcends mere quote entertainment unquote and becomes something far more engaging, but that's an aside). If it leaves some audience members behind, that's no fault of Anno's. "That's a substitute for reality", suggests Rei at one point. Perhaps a none-too-subtle dig at fans who become unreasonably entangled in what is ultimately something that isn't worth obsessing over? "Using fantasy to escape reality", perhaps. Evangelion is, ultimately, just a television / feature film series. Is it worth getting so wound up about that you're sending death threats to the creator? Anno doesn't completely rip apart his audience (he's too smart for that - ideas are merely suggested), but its clear his impressions of hardcore Eva fans aren't entirely favourable. Like Shinji masturbating over Asuka earlier in the film ("I'm so fucked up", he admits) they have distorted his intentions and made the whole thing somewhat obscene.

Hate mail
But, more than posing questions of how the audience has consumed his opus, the scene shows Anno questioning his own approach. Maybe the fans are right, and he should have created a more traditional, accessible ending? Rei imparts yet more wisdom to Shinji: "You can't bridge the gap between your truth and the reality of others". And to me, that's Anno clearly stating his final opinion on the matter. So what if some fans didn't like it? Evangelion is the work of Anno - a deeply personal one that often probes hix own psychological problems in depth. This is his decision: like Shinji ultimately rejecting Instrumentality and finding faith in humanity again, Anno's going with his heart, and deciding that this is how he wants to finish the story. Demanding, illogical fans be damned!

"I don't know where to find happiness" wonders Shinji aloud. Rei replies "So you only find happiness in your dreams". And that's what sums much of Evangelion up - themes of belonging, friendship and society explored in great depth. The sequence concludes with shots of a disgruntled looking audience, an empty theatre and then, finally, shots of hate mail Gaimax received following the series ending and Death & Rebirth (Die Anno!, the subtitles nicely inform us). In one three minute scene, Gaimax and Anno have powerfully reflected on how their art is consumed by a rabid fanbase. The result is an ambiguous scene that likely pissed off many of the fans it critiques. But, maybe, those fans don't really understand what Evangelion is in the first place.

End of Evangelion is one of animation's most complex, underrated and greatest achievements. And, in a short foray into live action, it shows itself as comfortable in real-life as it is in animation.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stray Thoughts: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY Photo: Jack English All rights reserved. (c) 2010 StudioCanal SA
I've been doing some writing for fresh-faced Irish site over the last week or two, and will hopefully continue to do so over the next few months too. Through their contacts, I attended a press screening of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy t'other morning. My thoughts can be read over here: (give 'em the traffic and I keep getting to see cool films!). TL; DR? It's rather good indeed. But I would never abandon you, loyal Film Ha Ha readers! And so here I present some stray thoughts on this wonderful film of espionage, wars that are cold and excessive levels of famous people. These are some extra features, if you will, just for you. Enjoy!

How does it measure up to Let the Right One In?
Following up a breakthrough hit such as LTROI isn't a small task for any director. To Alfredson's credit, he doesn't try to emulate the success of his previous international success. This is a very different film altogether. One that they do share in common, though, is a wonderful eye for period detail. He's not the most happily nostalgic director in the world - the pasts he conjures up are grimy, grey and morbid. The result, however, are period pieces that don't really feel like traditional 'historical' cinema. Both evoke timescales that aren't commonly explored in contemporary cinema, and feel wonderfully fresh as a result. Basically, if Let the Right One In breathed new life into the vampire movie (can you breathe life into undead creatures? Anyway...), Tinker... is a glorious return to form for the Cold War thriller. We missed ye.

Is it confusing? 
Here's something that could border on a problem. As far as I can gather, previous versions of TTSS (book and TV) have been rather dense affairs. Condensing the heavy story into one hundred and twenty minutes could be a problem. Occasionally it is.

Minor Spoilers Ahoy (skip if you wish to err on side of caution) 
One unfortunate directorial misstep is that Alfredson is relegating a certain character's death to a brief shot in the middle of a post-prologue montage. It's sudden and awkwardly handled, even more confusing as the film adapts a structure that regularly embraces flashbacks without much warning. I certainly warmed to the structural eccentricities relatively quickly, and as the film progresses there's a clearer divide between past and present (which is also our past, but that's complicating matters unnecessarily). But it took me ages to figure out when and where this character died, only indicated by his absence at a meeting scene close to the halfway mark. Maybe I'm just stupid (highly possible) but it's a rare notable problem with the movie.
Minor Spoilers End

Other than that, Tinker... isn't particularly confusing for a film that features a wide array of names and places the audience are required to keep track of. Sure, you'll lose track of some names. There's a discussion or two where the sheer amount of information may pull you down. Overall, though, it's pleasingly accessible, and there are few if any points where an audience member will miss the twists that really matter as the film approaches its rewarding end game.

Who's getting the awards?
Firstly, we all know awards are redundant. What a silly question, whoever you are! But yeah: it would be downright shameful if certain elements of this masterful ensemble aren't recognised for their achievements in acting. Personally, I emerged most impressed by Oldman and Hardy. The former is quietly understated, the other making a typically strong impression despite being somewhat of a late comer narratively. Special kudos, however, to Toby Jones. An always trustworthy face, Jones embraces his roots and pulls out one of cinema's most endearingly British accents: a voice that always dominates during his comparatively minor role. If there's an award for best accent, the man deserves it. Jones' own camp performance as a Nazi in Captain America is probably one of his great competitors in this field.

Any pretentious final thoughts?
Thanks for asking. Not since Michael Haneke's Cache has a film been so fond of surveillance. The camera, the soundtrack, that shady stranger: rarely do films make you feel so untrustworthy of everyone around. The camera here is, at best, another character: lurking in the shadows, never letting you enter into a false sense of security. It's the themes of paranoia that really make this film such an engaging, thoughtful and ultimately memorable film. This uneasiness even stretches to the exciting setpieces, including one that makes beautiful use of sweat itself. Further edge-of-your-seat sequences take place in libraries, foreign countries and creaky safehouses. This, being honest, is the kind of film that puts the hyperactive, trigger happy Mr. Bond to shame. When someone pulls a gun here, there's real danger afoot. And you can be assured there's rarely a moment when someone nearby doesn't have a holstered firearm. Indeed, as events constantly threaten to boil over, TTSS could easily be read as a cinematic analogy for the entire Cold War.

Also, I'll be curious to hear other people's thoughts on the 'school' subplot that takes up a few minutes of running time after the halfway mark. It could probably be considered superfluous if you're feeling cynical. While it can be a little on-the-nose at times (you'll see what I mean when you see it) it is a nice thematic contrast to the main story, and ultimately leads towards a rewarding conclusion.

Final final thought?
The way Alfredson never shows Smiley's wife's face? The nicest directorial indulgence in a film chock-a-block with visual flourishes.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Kill List

Worth checking twice?

Jay (Neil Maskell) is an English husband and father who hasn't worked in eight months. His wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) is stressing that their once comfortable lifestyle is in trouble - they can barely afford the shopping, let alone fix the jacuzzi! Cue marital strife. One night they invite Jay's old friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) over for a dinner party. Gal has a job offer for Jay, but Jay is cautious and politely refuses. However, tensions flare at the dinner table, as Jay storms off following a scathing comment from Shel about their financial situation. When everyone has calmed down, Jay reluctantly agrees to accept Gal's job offer.

Relatively innocuous, yes?

So here's my dilemma: how the hell do I review a film that I'd genuinely feel bad describing in anything more than the most basic detail? The above synopsis is a mere introduction to Kill List, and following the opening scenes of suburban strife Kill List becomes a very peculiar film indeed. As the title suggests, and a bit like Cold Fish earlier this year, these innocuous beginnings transform into something a bit more murderous. Magnificently murderous.

The film is from director Ben Wheatley, who co-writes with Amy Jump (with 'additional dialogue' by the cast). The film-makers have crafted a very strange beast: a film that is by turns riotously funny, deeply disturbing, horrifically violent, genuinely scary and - ultimately - almost camp. The unique tone and multitude of influences are handled with great care, though. Here we have a film that has some absolutely stunning setpieces (a dimly lit but uncomfortably claustrophobic action sequence in a tight sewer stands out) alongside some of contemporary cinema's finest one-liners (many of the film's most brutal moments are directly followed by belly laughs). There's nightmarish, almost Lynchian, surrealism, and regular lashings of ultraviolence (including a horrifying bit with a hammer). And it all works.

The cast certainly help. The middle-aged Maskell and Smiley (the latter gloriously embracing his Northern Irish accent) make for unlikely protagonists, but they both manage to swim along with the constantly shifting tone. They're as comfortable with intense action as they are with witty banter. Maskell and the Swedish Burring create a fascinating parody of modern married couple: rarely has a casual Skype call come across as so deeply disturbing. It's the casualness these individuals show towards their morally dubious activities that terrifies, even more so than the more explicit horror scenes. Other actors creepily pop in when needed - in an almost dialogue free appearance, Gareth Tunley says more with a sinister smile than words ever could. To Wheatley and Jump's endless credit, they keep the backstories of the characters ambiguous and vague, and they're far more interesting as a result.

It's a fantastically shot and edited film - the crew make great use out of light particularly, from fire to flashlights. Scenes often frantically cut, which merely adds to the uneasy tone. The soundtrack is the most explicitly 'horror' element of the movie, and definitely channeling Mr. Lynch. Kill List certainly looks and sounds the part, full of considered visual symbolism (occult and religious imagery appear frequently).

It's hard to criticise the opening hour of Kill List, but the final half hour is surely to divide audience. Here, the film very purposefully becomes something bordering on pantomime, and (likely purposefully) resembles a classic British film whose name it would be remiss of me to mention out of fear of spoiling anything. I'm pretty sure I like the further tonal shift (although I'll gladly admit it's a bit jarring), but it's likely to be a change too far for many audience members.

I hope I've kept things suitably ambiguous here, and that I haven't ruined any surprises. Because that's what Kill List is: surprising. It's brave, unique and very strange indeed. It fucks with conventions with an admirable nonchalance. Kill List could well be brilliant, but it's definitely something: fascinating, compelling, frightening. And something is better than nothing.