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The Kill-Off Review

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A bed-ridden nasty piece of work, Luane (Gross) tries to pull the strings in his community by spreading rumours, only to have them come back and shoot him to pieces.

★★★★★

Jim Thompson’s queasy thrillers have always offered fertile pickings for the movies, attracting directors such as Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway), Bernard Tavernier (Coup De Terchon) and Stephen Frears (The Grifters). Now it’s Maggie Greenwald’s turn and, though she has worked in post-production on films by the likes of Walter Hill before establishing herself as a director in her own right on the East Coast, she shows few signs here of playing by current Hollywood rules, simply refusing to twist the knife in this bleak chamber piece.

Set in a decaying beach town in America’s North East, The Kill-Off centres around the bedridden Luane (Gross) who seeks to control the lives of the six other characters through vicious gossip. Greenwald uses shots of the town’s telephone wires and an irritatingly corny score to suggest the various characters’ slow march to doom. Luane’s eventual murder is on the cards from the word go and Greenwald virtually ignores any idea of plot or pacing in favour of simply letting a fine cast bring out an impressive sense of quiet desperation and frustrated lives.

The Kill-Off’s mounting gloom is not alleviated by some clumsy camerawork and the almost theatrical emptiness of the small town depicted here. By the time half the cast get shot at the end, Greenwald has made it deliberately difficult for us to care one way or the other.

Throwing away the rulebook, Greenwald puts together a pleasingly grotesque bunch of small-town low lives, then tears them apart.