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Shifting into top gear

Ben Parker’s short Shifter impresses before the UK premiere of Kill Listat FrightFest.

kill_list

One of the buzziest films of not just FrightFest but this year’s festival circuit since its world premiere at SXSW, the phenomenal Kill List received its UK premiere on Sunday night at a sold-out Empire.

Before I delved into the twisted world of Ben Wheatley’s horror though, the crowd were treated to a screening of Ben Parker’s excellent short Shifter. Superbly crafted with a killer ending twist, Shifter follows a similar concept to Jumper, only executed better, as a young woman (Charlotte Hunter) tries to escape from a building as she is being tracked down by a group of mysterious soldiers.

It’s screening with Kill List at the Curzon Soho for a week from this Friday (Sept 2) and I thoroughly recommend you take your seat early to appreciate this dark sci-fi gem.

With the crowd suitably warmed up, it was time for Kill List and even with my high expectations, it exceeded them on every level. Brilliantly acted, darkly twisted and compelling viewing with a finale that lingers long after the credits roll, it was easily my film of FrightFest 2011 and I’ll be hard pushed to find one better come the end of the year.

But enough of my gushing, a Q&A with the director and cast followed the screening, which provided one of the festival’s most entertaining sessions.

When Wheatley wasn’t mocking the crowd – asked if he had meant to leave a scene in the film when a FrightFester stumbled over his question, he joked “I was as surprised as you when it came up to be honest” – he spoke about everything from the origins of the story to the filming process.

The idea for Kill List all stemmed from nightmares during his childhood. “Just recurring dreams that I used to have, I wrote a lot of them down and basically thought if they scared the shit out of me, there’s a good chance they’ll scare other people.”

“Also I’ve been trapped in small spaces and dinner parties and have a fear of massive, naked men trying to stab me to death,” he jokingly added.

Every aspect of the Paganism that comes into play during the film’s final third was all made up, with Wheatley keen to avoid people coming up to him and pointing out inaccuracies. “The whole thing about the Pagan stuff was it was meant to be unidentifiable as a religion and not researched at all. We didn’t look at other real world English religions so there wouldn’t be any of that baggage.”

The stark soundtrack of the film was also brought up with it stemming from a mix of composed music and ambient sounds. “We started with a palette of music that we liked and then we slowed it down to 5% speed and built this soundscape with that. Once we got that bed of sound, we went to [composer] Jim Williams and wanted it in the spirit of that but not exactly like it.”

Improvisation was also important for Wheatley when making the film, with actor Michael Smiley describing the balance between scripted dialogue and improv elements. “A lot of it was on the script; what you see now was on the paper but there was a lot of improvisation. There’s a lot of improv that didn’t get used but what is does is it flavours the scene.”

Screen Star of Tomorrow MyAnna Buring felt that the improvisational elements of the film helped their performances. “The way we worked with Ben, by the time we came to shoot scenes on script, we had this kind of layered character and a lot of stuff came from there which made it feel quite real, in the moment.”

When asked how they prepared for their roles, actor Neil Maskell talked about how a lot of the research ended up not getting used. “We had to throw away a lot of preparation because we were improvising so much and trying different stuff that you couldn’t be too precious about decisions you’d made before.” Adding that “very early on, I was forced to abandon all the work we’d done by a dogmatic and megalomaniacal director,” he joked.

Wheatley had the final word though. “You say that like it’s a problem or something.”

Kill List is out Sept 2 from Optimum.

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