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Bang on target

Two years ago, director Ben Wheatley's debut feature Down Terrace threw several spanners in the viewers' works by juxtaposing banal scenes of domestic drama with violence and criminality, as if intent on bolting genres together like some deranged cinematic scientist. That particular low-budget effort worked a treat, particularly given its limitations, but with Kill List he has upped his game considerably.

A scene of domestic strife introduces us to Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring), the latter berating her husband to get his act together while he seems distant and distracted but clearly with the potential to erupt at any moment. Things become odder with the arrival of Jay's friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) for dinner, over the course of which we discover that the two men had been together in Iraq, both in the military and as security contractors, and have recently been working as hitmen for hire.

Jay is traumatised by something that went horribly wrong on a contract in Kiev while Gal, a superficially genial Northern Irelander, persuades him to get back on the horse for the inevitable One Last Job.

The way Kill List glides seamlessly from Ken Loach-like kitchen-sink realism into another dramatic dimension is staggering, with Wheatley upping the ante further when he introduces The Client (Struan Rodger), the men's new employer who insists that Jay seals the contract for three assassinations with his own blood.

To give away any more of this fiendishly involving plot would be mean -- but I will say that the drift from crime into horror and the occult is handled so well that Kill List has the stamp of 'cult classic' all over it. It is quite violent but all is not what it seems and I've a funny feeling that there were clues left throughout the early part of the film which will only become apparent on a second or possibly third viewing. In which case, book me down for a couple of repeat screenings of this exceptional thriller. HHHHI

FRIGHT NIGHT Horror/Comedy. Starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Cert 12A

Tom Holland's original Fright Night from 1985 was a perfectly entertaining blend of comedy and horror and while we can ponder why anybody would want to have another crack at it, at least Craig Gillespie and his perfectly assembled cast have approached the task with the tongue-in-cheek relish of the original crew.

Set in a drab, anonymous suburb of Las Vegas, Fright Night sees Charley (Anton Yelchin) emerging from teenage geekdom and, much to his own disbelief as everyone else's, squiring the extremely attractive Amy (Imogen Poots).

This hasn't sat well with his former comrade-in-nerdishness Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is convinced that vampires are on the prowl in the area, reckoning, quite reasonably, that a town where most people work at night and sleep during the day is the perfect cover for the bloodsucking undead.

To make matters worse, Charley and his mother (the versatile and ever-excellent Toni Collette) have a new next-door neighbour, Jerry (Colin Farrell), who just might be the vampire-in-chief, which leads our hero to seek the services of stage magician and vampire 'expert' Peter Vincent (David Tennant).

The real treat is watching Farrell and Tennant really getting stuck into their respective roles, the former going all out as the eye-rolling, air-sniffing embodiment of evil while the latter appears to be filtering the spirit of Captain Jack Sparrow through the body of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, all bluster and profanity with an order of Goth ham on the side.

Watching two fine actors clearly having fun is a rare enough treat these days, and when such an event occurs in a solid, knowing bucket of popcorn hokum as Fright Night, then an entertaining night at the pictures is guaranteed. HHHII

THE ART OF GETTING BY Drama. Starring Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Sam Robards, Alicia Silverstone. Directed by Gavin Wiesen. Cert 12A.

Although first-time writer/director Gavin Wiesen's movie does have snatches of inspiration and a certain awkward charm, the central idea isn't enough to sustain an entire film, even one which clocks in at a relatively brisk 84 minutes. The central problem is that the main character, George (Freddie Highmore), a bright but self-obsessed teenager studying at a school for well-to-do Manhattanites, doesn't care about what's going on around him so why should we care about him?

The Art of Getting By is essentially a low-cal take on the kind of upper middle-class New York boho angst dealt with much better in The Squid and the Whale. HHIII

THE HEDGEHOG Drama. Starring Josiane Balasko, Garance le Guillermic, Igawa Togo. Directed by Mona Achache. Cert Club

It's been quite a week for irritating, pretentious youngsters but in The Hedgehog we have the added bonus of the character being 11 years old and French. Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is a bookish, annoying know-it-all from a wealthy and politically powerful family who decides she'll commit suicide on her 12th birthday, as the world couldn't possibly hold any more interest for her. That we're not inclined to care at all about this pampered princess is a serious flaw on the part of director Mona Archace,as lurking beneath all the pseudo-intellectual musings there's a lovely warm and human storyline developing about the burgeoning relationship between a middle-aged, frumpy apartment caretaker (Josiane Balasko) and a new tenant, a Japanese widower named Ozo (Igawa Togo). HHIII