Kill List (2011)


Kill List would appear to be one of those movies that has taken the festival circuit by storm and already made itself a firm favourite with horror fans. Which is strange to me because, while watching the movie, I couldn’t figure out just what made it stand out from the crowd. There are certainly elements brought together here that are normally in very different types of movies but there’s nothing here that’s actually all that original or even all that shocking to those familiar with the darker recesses of cinema and how twisted the human imagination can get.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is barely keeping things together on the home front with his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring). He hasn’t worked for a while and the money is disappearing faster than either would like it to. But they try, in between raging arguments, to put on a united front and make things better for the sake of each other and their young son, Sam (Harry Simpson). When Gal (Michael Smiley) is invited round for a meal with a date (Fiona, played by Emma Fryer) the tension rises and rises until Jay explodes in a fit of anger. In the aftermath, Gal talks to Jay and convinces him to get back to work and to join him on his next job. Jay agrees. What do Jay and Gal do for money? Well, they’re a couple of hired killers. Cue some violence and escalating paranoia as things turn into a “one last job” type of situation and some major, undefined, threat seems to be looming over the two men.

It’s a shame that Kill List doesn’t quite come together as well as I was hoping it would because there’s a lot to enjoy here. The relationships are all well defined and well portrayed. Jay and Shel, Jay and his son, Jay and Gal, all of these connections show different sides of the people involved and flesh out the characters in a satisfying manner. I’ve seen some people complain that they were put off by the moments of domestic drama but I think that each aspect of the whole story, up until a disappointing and surprisingly predictable finale, gets the time and space it deserves and commend director Ben Wheatley on making those choices.

The script, by Wheatley and Amy Jump, isn’t too bad. There aren’t lots of outstanding lines but there are some good exchanges of dialogue. The biggest disappointment comes from lines that hint at aspects of the story we never see further developed or explained. Ambiguity is all well and good with strong enough support but here it feel like quite a cop out and the film, sadly, unravels when it should be turning the screws and building up to something revelatory and shocking. I assume that those making the film thought they accomplished just that but, nope, they didn’t.

Kill List is certainly worth a watch, and probably still worth a purchase if you find it at the right price, because it does have an interesting storyline, even though it is full of unfulfilled potential, and the obvious analogy with modern military endeavours (intentional or unintentional, I’m not sure) works very well. There are also one or two moments of graphic violence punctuating the second half of the film that will impress fans of the wholeheartedly nasty. Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley (in particular) and MyAnna Buring are all very good in their roles and the supporting cast is never less than solid. Plus there are moments of effective atmosphere that really do feel impressively spooky even while the film is losing any cohesiveness it had. It was not a terrible movie but I’d certainly file it under “interesting disappointment”.


Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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