Let me start by saying this, if you like to go into a film with absolutely no prior knowledge of what it involves and what it’s little plot quirks may be, stop reading now. Kill List is arguably a film best seen with no spoilers in mind no matter how minor.
Ben Wheatley’s second feature film after the low-fi gangster black comedy Down Terrace, is a dark and unsettling blend of domestic drama, buddy movie, tough guy hitmen and surreal occult horror. The mood and tone of the film is, from the outset, bleak and tense with a constant sense of foreboding prevailing throughout the movie. Every scene you are expecting something terrible to happen, and for the last half an hour of Kill List, it does.
The action begins in the house of former soldier and out of work hired gun Jay (Neil Maskell) who lives in a generic suburban home with his attractive wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), herself a former soldier, and their son. The couple have a volatile relationship with Jay’s lack of employment and the subsequent lack of funds a major sticking point. The couple have an old friend of Jay’s over for a dinner party, the seemingly laid back Gal (Michael Smiley). After a disastrous dinner party destroyed by Jay’s volatile reaction to Gal’s waifish date and her loathsome job of sacking people during the recession, Gal convinces Jay to come back to the killing game and team up with him once more. On the whole, the opening third of the film is a study of domestic tension and masculinity in crisis. The dining rooms and well-cut lawns all scream bourgeois serenity, yet the whole sequence is punctured not only by Jay and Shel’s screaming matches but also a strange scene where Gal’s date takes down the bathroom mirror and carves a pagan like symbol into it’s back. Needless to say, this is an ominous harbinger of things to come.
The next stage of the film follows the duo as they carry out their ‘Kill List’, a list of three names described only by their profession. The Priest, the Librarian and the MP. There’s plenty of blood and gore along the way here and some scenes of a hammer on head variety may be a little too much for some. Gal and Jay bicker like old friends throughout and you get a genuine sense that despite their arguments the two pals do care deeply for one another. A love born out of combat perhaps? As their mission goes on however, questions start arising. Why do the victims keep thanking Jay just before he kills them? Why doesn’t the doctor treat Jay’s ritually cut and infected hand? What role does Gal’s girlfriend have in all this? These questions mount up and you get a real sense of unease as you wait to see how they all tie together.
Then everything takes a turn for the weird. This final section of the film will not be to everyone’s taste. For some it will spoil what went before, for others it will be the icing on a particularly gruesome cake. Without giving too much away, it all gets a little bit Wicker Man and a lot of the unanswered questions begin to make a degree of sense, no matter how ghastly.
The film is deeply unsettling in parts with both the horrific violence and the impending doom that hangs over its central characters stays with you throughout. The two leads are perfectly cast with Neil Maskell full of pent up rage and hatred as Jay and Neil Maskell a tough yet calming influence as Gal. The film may be broadly either a gangster or a horror film but at its core is a story about friendship and sticking by your mate when times get tough. Both actors deserve to go on to bigger things after these well measured and assured performances.
The ending isn’t necessarily as shocking and freakish as I may suggest here, it’s more the fact that it’s so out of step with the rest of the film. It’s this clash of genres however which keeps you on the edge of your seat and unsure where the story will go next.
If you don’t scream “what the f*ck!!!!!” at least once in the movie, I would be very surprised.
Kill List is out on DVD & blu-ray 26th December 2011.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson
Runtime: 95 min