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If you managed to catch English thriller Kill List at one of the International Film Festivals last year, count yourself lucky.

Last night I visited my local video store and discovered that the film had bypassed a general cinema release and gone straight to DVD.

This is an unfortunate commercial reality in New Zealand, but that doesn't make it any less disheartening. I was really looking forward to Kill List coming out at the movies and discovering a wider audience beyond the film festivals. It really deserved to.

I was also really looking forward to seeing it for a second time on the big screen. But alas, it went straight to DVD.


Now that that has been addressed, let me tell you: If you have not seen this movie, you simply must. It is nothing less than a modern masterpiece. The experience may be somewhat lessened on DVD, but it's still very much worth sitting down for.

Few films in recent years have rattled me so effectively.

Generic-faced British journeyman actor Neil Maskell plays Jay, a soldier/mercenary who is still coming to terms with some bad stuff that went down in Kiev almost a year ago.

He spends his days mucking about with his kids, arguing with his wife (MyAnna Buring of The Descent) and generally just hanging about.

Then an old friend/comrade Gal (Michael Smiley, someone Spaced fans should recognise) turns up and has some hitman work for them. Jay needs the money (the spa pool is broken), so he takes the job.

In written form, this all sounds like classic cinematic criminality. But Kill List writer/director Ben Wheatley and his cast establish an incredibly grounded portrayal of a very believable modern family that draws you in very close to the characters.

The word "hitman" is never mentioned. It's sometimes difficult to keep track of exactly what is going on, as the dialogue is so naturalistic and unmannered. But the drive of the story is clear. It's a tone that reminded me of Mike Leigh's best work.

Anyway, once the boys start executing their hits, the film takes some very dramatic turns. I don't want to spoil those here (frankly I'm not sure how I would describe what happens), but the final section of the film comprised 30 of the tensest minutes I've ever spent in a cinema.

If you can help yourself, DON'T read up on the film before you see it. Don't even read the back of the DVD case. It's one of those movies where the less you know, the better.

At the screening of Kill List that I attended at London's Fright Fest last year, Wheatley got on stage at the post-screening Q&A and declared up front that he "wasn't going to explain a f**king thing".

This speaks to the more enigmatic aspects of Kill List, but I still found it a massively satisfying and wonderfully disturbing film.

Be warned: there are several brief moments of extreme, almost Lynchian-violence (think the nastier bits from A History of Violence), so if you can't handle that sort of thing, maybe stay away, or have your hands ready to cover your face.

Watch the trailer for Kill List:

* Any other Kill List fans out there? Are you gutted it bypassed a Kiwi cinematic release? Post your comments below.