Review: Kill List (18) / Directed by: Ben Wheatley / Screenplay by: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump / Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer / Release Date: Dec 26th
It’s a source of constant frustration that our movie theatres remain jam-packed with “is that still on?” eye-candy blockbusters week after week leaving cleverer, darker, more challenging fare like ‘Kill List’ to enjoy a one-week run on one screen before being shunted off into the shadows to await its inevitable DVD release. But there are some compensations; the masses can thrill to the never-ending antics of pirate Cap’n Jack and the kid with the wand and those of us who fancy something a bit more inventive can feel a little smug and superior because we’ve dared to wander off the cinematic beaten track and found ourselves a genuine piece of movie treasure.
And ‘Kill List’ is a bit of a treasure, albeit a perverse, slightly warped and wilfully genre-hopping one. Directed and co-written by Ben (‘Down Terrace’) Wheatley, ‘Kill List’ initially presents like some worthy Ken Loach-style real world drama, a story of misery and poverty on some kitchen sink estate where desperate, grubby people have to resort to desperate, grubby acts just to stay alive. But Wheatley and his superb cast have created something rather extraordinary which is part-gangster movie, part-romance and, in its last reel, very definitely part-horror in scenes which are surely meant as an homage to 'The Wicker Man' amongst others. Neil Maskell plays Dan, a bitter and tough ex-soldier struggling to come to terms with lift post-service and battling to keep his relationship with Shell (MyAnna Buring) on an even keel despite his violent temper outbursts. Neil is enlisted by his friend Gal (Smiley) into some quick, lucrative 'hit man' work, bumping off selected targets on a 'kill list' for a cheap local gangster. Gal likes to get in, get the job done and then get out without leaving a trace. Neil likes to exercise his inner psychopath by taking his time, brutally mutilating and slaughtering their victims. 'Kill List' is coy about the morality of the two men's 'work'; their targets appear to be upstanding members of the public but the suggestion is that these are vile, corrupt men, pornographers or pedophiles who, some might say,deserve everything they get. But Gal and even Neil are becoming uncomfortable with their lifestyle and one last 'hit' - an MP in his luxurious country mansion - turns into something bizarre and surreal when the forest in which they're hiding lights up with the flaming torches of an occult procession, dozens of worshippers of some unnamed cult, many of them naked, others wearing woven face masks. Appalled by one act of self-sacrifice, Neil and Gal open fire on the occultists... with consequences which are both disastrous and, in some ways, horrifically disturbing.
'Kill List' is unusual because it demands a lot of its audience. It doesn't offer up easy answers to the questions it's asked because sometimes that's what life's like. Sometimes things don't make sense, sometimes there aren't any explanations because things just happen and we never find out why. So it is here with Neil and Gal and Shell whose lives are never quite what we think they are and certainly don't end up the way we might be expecting. Wheatley handles the domestic stuff with a fine eye for detail and naturalism; Neil and Shell's relationship creaks with tension and the laboured 'dinner party' with Gal and his odd new girlfriend Sonia (Fryer) never seems more than a moment away from the rage which eventually ruins it and is as tense a sequence as anything more obscure towards the end of the movie. When it comes the violence is graphic and bloody enough to make even the most hardened wince as Neil tortures and batters and pulverises his victims before going home to the bosom of his long-suffering, loving wife and their innocent son Sam.
So just when you think you've got a handle on 'Kill List' the film veers off in another direction entirely at about the seventy-minute mark (although there are one or two hints of something odd building up early on, specifically when Sonia daubs a mystical symbol on the back of Neil and Shell's bathroom mirror) as the story spirals towards its devastating conclusion - and it's a conclusion which will leave you alternately breathless, appalled and very probably finally puzzled and annoyed because you really didn't see it coming.
'Kill List' isn't some slick, witty, tongue-in-cheek, knowing thriller; it's tough, uncompromising, raw and urban. It could only be a British film and it allows Wheatley to set out his stall as an exciting, visionary UK storyteller who, given the breaks, could become a real force to be reckoned with in what's left of the British film industry. Vicious and uncomfortable it may be, but 'Kill List' is a dazzling and demanding piece of work and is pretty much guaranteed to jolt you out of your post-Christmas torpor when it arrives on DVD later this month. Don't miss it again.
Extras: Bizarre B-roll ‘making of’ footage, slightly luvvy interviews, trailer.