Staking a Claim for Kill List

Playing ‘spot the location’ with Kill List is a pretty thankless task for a Sheffield resident. The better part of the film is set either in soul-less ring road hotel suites, if not in equally beige new-build suburbs. In a Q&A following a preview screening in Sheffield, the director even made it clear that “it’s not supposed to be Sheffield, really” and that a local audience could probably pick holes in a story that purports to stretch across a large, if indefinite, part of the country. And a near anonymous backdrop makes sense for an occasionally graphic horror film, the emotional imbalance of the hit-men set against a strangely lonely and faceless world.

In a country covered in generic branded service stations, corporate hotels, and near identical high streets, the setting almost gives the film a universal quality; a dullness any Brit could instantly recognise. And it’s hardly the first time that Sheffield and its environs have taken the role of ‘wholly generic British backdrop’. In most recent memory is the 2008 horror Hush, where the lifeless scenery of Yorkshire service stations punctuates the stalking terror of a motorway trip from hell. Finding horror in the everyday is something you might normally associate with British cultural staples like Dr Who or John Wyndham, and both Kill List and Hush do a fine job of conjuring really quite unsettling weirdness in a rather mundane world.

Those in the know will already have spotted that the common link between the two horrors is Warp Films, the independent film production company based in Sheffield. Higher up the funding chain we find Screen Yorkshire, who no doubt played a big part in selling the city as the best place for filming. One of my favourite, if somewhat esoteric, of film artefacts is a Screen Yorkshire location catalogue, a lavish picture book of sites around God’s Own Country that can represent a surprisingly broad range of settings.

It’s not quite as wildly optimistic as this location map put out by Paramount in 1927, yet the case it states is quite the same: Yorkshire’s more versatile than you might think.

Yet the degree of recognition any given audience can find in a film presents all kinds of issues. My previous post on Four Lions stirred up quite some interest in Sheffield readers keen to pinpoint those backdrops they half recognised from the film. You could even say that the local audience actually claimed some small ownership of the film, with the film screening for close to three months straight at the Showroom cinema in town, representing one of their largest ever box office successes. The fact that scenes of the film were shot on the roof of the same cinema probably didn’t hurt sales either.

Stepping back from this local perspective, even Four Lions positioned itself in a broad and non-specific setting. Its backdrop is a working class Northern city with a muslim population, which could easily be any city North of the Watford gap. Yet even this regional nuance was lost on some international critics, with the film reviewer of the Toronto Star noting that the film’s bumbling jihadists ‘live in or near London’; a misobservation a Sheffield local would likely not take lying down.

But to return to a question of audiences and ownership, what stakes can we ever legitimately claim to a film? Sheffielders took Four Lions to its heart, but in all probability won’t do so with Kill List, as there’s nothing local which they can claim as their own. Conversely a wider British audience of film critics and genre fans have already started championing Kill List as the best ‘British Horror/Thriller/Genre Film in Years’, garnering it with awards galore at FrightFest, with and four and five star reviews both left, right and centre.

Much as I enjoyed the film, it still somehow felt uneven, brilliant in parts but never with enough momentum to give the story’s twists and turns the heft to ever be convincing. The blowing of trumpets and banging of drums which has since followed all feels a bit out of proportion for a film which is good but still flawed.

Yet like a number of others who share these reservations, I still side on the concluding remark that it is worth seeing, and that we should all get behind it, more of this sort of thing, yes thank-you kindly! The ownership here is towards something broader, namely an independent British genre film with a modicum of ambition. Perhaps it’s a gross disservice to claim that people like the principle of the film more than the film itself, but I think you’d be hard pushed to ever actually separate the two.

However complicated and thorny this question is, the film is definitely worth a look. If nothing else I’m keen to hear how the film lands with others less conscious of championing or scorning the film. And furthermore and most importantly, I’m ever keen to hear from those who might be able to contribute to the location map below. As before, be warned for HERE BE SPOILERS:

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7 thoughts on “Staking a Claim for Kill List

  1. Well I was the chap who asked the question about the location so thanks for the (several steps removed) reference!

    Have to say I was possibly more impressed than yourself sir, especially in the context of Hush. Here’s my review – http://www.exposedmagazine.co.uk/reviews/flicks/2011/09/05/Kill_List__The_Exposed_Review/

    Recorded the Wheatley Q&A so will hopefully get that up over next couple of days…

    • burntretina says:

      Thanks for the feedback, and well done on actually putting the question to the director himself! I’m still in two minds about the film, suppose I should pull my finger out and go see it again. Tempted to give it time and come back to it with as fresh eyes as could be hoped for, but I’m really curious to see what foreign critics make of it. And not just to confirm my own grouchy opinions either…

  2. TimC says:

    Re the hotels – the interiors of the Aston were indeed in that hotel, as were (at least some) of the interiors of the Holiday Inn. I think the interiors of the Park Hotel were also correct, though it’s a while since I stayed in that hotel.

    From the establishing shots at the start, Jay’s house is in Catcliffe (you see the glass kiln and the Advanced Manufacturing Park). You also see the same bulldings on AMP when they arrive at the Aston – I don’t know whether this was intentional, and whether they are meant to be staying just minutes from Jay’s home.

    Gal’s house is also in Gleadless. The shot of Jay driving out of town on Parkway to get there confused me too…

    The garage where they stop at night to clean up is, I think, the one just by the Wortley turn off Penistone Road.

    • burntretina says:

      You’ve certainly got an eye for Sheffield’s hotels! I only worked out a few of them from the film’s credits, so I’m glad this comes as a form confirmation.

      You’re right about the glass kiln and about the AMP as well, so I’ve amended the map to reflect that. I think you’re right about where Jay’s home is, but I’d want to rewatch the film if I was going to confirm it. Likewise with Gal’s house, which I also thought was in Gleadless, but I couldn’t work out exactly where. As you say, the film jumps once or twice, them leaving house to them suddenly appearing on the Parkway, but that’s perhaps no great sin for a film you could hardly call a documentary!

      And finally, the garage, I know the one you mean, but again I’d want to rewatch the film before pinning it on the map. You may be right, but it’s easy to mistake petrol stations. Still, that said, impressive work on all these locations. As I say, the film doesn’t make it easy!

  3. Ben wheatley says:

    Jays house is in brigg. :)

    • burntretina says:

      Ha Ha! Well that’s us told!

      The map will be updated accordingly, and the rest of us can all hang our heads in shame for not knowing North Lincolnshire when we see it. And I think that puts paid to your comment during the Q&A at the Showroom, it isn’t really supposed to be Sheffield.

      Thanks for clearing that up, thanks for the film(!) and look forward to seeing the DVD when it’s out on Boxing Day, if Amazon are to be believed!

  4. Ben wheatley says:

    To be fair you are right. The wides are not near where the house is.

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