Today: April 10, 2024

Kill List DVD

 

Nothing is what it seems in this thriller come horror that grips from the outset and leaves you reeling by the conclusion.

After his first film, Down Terrace (2009), you could easily make the assumption that Ben Wheatley is aiming to be a grittier Mike Leigh.  A filmmaker who gets down in the council estates with the less desirable people of the world to give you a slice of life drama.  Down Terrace marked the emergence of a hugely interesting and talented British filmmaker, Kill List not only cements it, but demands that Wheatley be watched very closely.  For Kill List is a film rife with fascinating characters, a plot so eerily dark that you are drawn into a slow descent into a hell, the likes of which have not been seen on screen, certainly on these shores, for quite some time.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is an Iraq War veteran come part time hit man.  Living the suburban life with his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and his young son, Jay has not worked for eight months and the bills are stacking up.  Thankfully former partner in crime Gal (Michael Smiley) comes to dinner, with his mysterious new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), and has a job for them.  So as the friends set out to off all those listed on the Kill List they begin to realise that something is amiss.  Why do their targets keep thanking Jay before he kills them, who is Fiona, why does a mysterious symbol keep cropping up everywhere and what exactly went wrong on the pairs previous job in Kiev?  The answers they find will lead to a truth that neither hardened man is prepared for.

In some ways Kill List is comparable to Terrace but only in it’s opening half of uncomfortable family life.  Shel and Jay are constantly at each other’s throats but clearly have a lot of affection for each other.  However, Jay is in a form of purgatory, haunted by whatever happened in Kiev he is sucked into a dark underworld with his latest job.  With every corner he turns, every rock he looks under the Kill List leads Jay into a world of horrific pornography, violent cults and religious folks who seem to almost revere him.  To explain the plot of Kill List too closely would be to deprive you of a level of intrigue and religious metaphor that has not been done so effectively since Angel Heart (1987), that starred Mickey Rourke before the boxing took its toll on his face.

Wheatley’s style heightens the mystery.  Happy to ignore certain rules of narrative cinema he is prone to jump cuts and casual camera movements that are deceptive in their depiction of the reality the film occupies.  Nothing is what it seems and everything is suspect.  There is a hint of Steven Soderbergh doing British gangsters but it’s more David Lynch than that, planting ideas in your mind and then letting them fester and rot until you are descending into hell, through a wonderfully murky set of tunnels, with Jay and Gal.  What is more the plot is so rife for intellectual dissection you often are not prepared for the twists but also the sporadic and graphic outbursts of violence.  Indeed between Kill List and Drive you will never look at a hammer the same way ever again.

Although hard to pinpoint Kill List’s genre, be it crime thriller, horror, existential drama or other, it relies heavily on character interaction.  The relationship of Gal and Jay is that familiar bromance, but there is more reality to it than say The Hangover or Lethal Weapon, these two don’t so much bicker as all out fight each other at various points.  But when the dust settles, or broken cups smashed over the head, they nurse their cuts and bruises with childlike ‘you started it’ retorts.  Maskell as Jay is not always likeable but wonderfully real.  The kind of man you can imagine not wanting to cross as he stumbles out of the local pub.  But beneath the icy exterior is something damaged, his bad back and infected cut seem to be representative of something altogether more psychological worrying.  Smiley on the other hand is a jovial type, warm and fun to be around the kind of friend you would turn to for help.   Indeed having recently won Best Supporting Actor for the role of Gal at this year’s British Independent Film Awards the chance to see more of Michael Smiley on our screens is a very welcome inevitability.

Dark and mysterious in ways you won’t find attractive but will be drawn to in spite of yourself.  The climax will leave most stunned while others frustrated, but Kill List is a prime example of the destination being the journey and this is a hugely engrossing nightmare of a film.  Pray this is one list you don’t make it onto this Christmas.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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