KILL LIST film review by IAN JOHNSTON
Release date: 2nd September 2011
Former English comedy show television director Ben Wheatley‘s second feature film merges the hitman thriller with the British horror movie, producing highly original and exhilarating results. In a similar fashion to his acclaimed ultra low budget 2009 debut, the impressive, crime and dope dealing drama set in Brighton, Downs Terrace, Wheatley marshals a very strong cast, allowing them to improvise with his script bringing a chilling neo-realism to the bizarre and disturbing proceedings.
Sheffield, the present. Ex-soldier turned professional assassin Jay (Neil ”ËThe Football Factory’ Maskell) has been idle for eight month following a previous unseen calamitous botched ”Ëjob’ in Kiev, which evidently shattered him physically and psychologically. Time passes. Tension mounts in the family home as his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) bitterly complains about the state of the house, his vacant demeanour and that they are running short of cash. Then his best friend and ”Ëbusiness partner’ Gal (Michael Smiley, also a key character in Downs Terrace), with his enigmatic new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), come round to the house with news of some gainful employment. It all seems simple enough – Gal has the names of some people on a list and they have to kill them. The money is good and their targets are probably bad, Gal reassures Jay. They deserve what is coming to them.
So the pair get tooled up, hit the road (the film could also be seen as a peculiar English road movie) and begin with the work in hand. Gal and Jay commence stalking their prey, but their targets seem to be nearly as unusual as their mysterious employer. As Gal and Jay’s situation becomes increasingly bizarre, the level of violent retribution Jay dishes out becomes progressively severe and the more unhinged he becomes. To reveal further plot development does a disservice to the movie, as the less you know going in heightens the film’s compelling power.
Despite the fact that the end of the picture is somewhat disappointing (you can see the exact nature of the denouement coming from a mile off), Kill List confirms Wheatley’s status as a remarkably talented new British director/writer. Wheatley’s script, co-written with his wife Amy Jump, manages to be simultaneously very funny and exceedingly poignant. Wheatley and Jump encapsulate the poetry of idiocy inherent in the hitmen’s dialogue to perfection ”â aided, no doubt, by the actors highly skilful and free improvisation ”â as well as the more subtle moments of domestic interaction between Jay, his wife and child, in a manner similar to British social realist filmmakers such as Alan Clarke or Tony Richardson. Each of the main characters is a rounded, all-too authentic character, while the script also offers valid political perspectives for those willing to see them and a study of masculinity in crisis in to the bargain.
Though the film openly borrows from such memorable British films as The Wicker Man, Get Carter, The Hit and The Witchfinder General (as well as American pictures like The Killers ”â Don Siegel’s 1964 version), Wheatley’s disquieting vision of a very convincing purgatory shrouded in moral twilight is utterly distinctive. Laurie Rose’s austere muted palette of outdoor cinematography captures the bleak, mysterious menace of the semi rural landscape and wide-open skies. The cast are uniformly superb and Jim Williams eerie score, featuring whistles, chants and sawed strings, contributes to a further feeling of deep unease and disorientation.
The close of the film might be unsatisfactory but for the rest of Kill List’s running time, Wheatley maintains a charged ambience of real tension and menace. You are never completely sure in what direction Kill List is going to turn next, though those who saw Down Terrace will be prepared for Wheatley’s savage blend of hilarious gallows humour, kitchen sink realism and grim violence.
Though probably not for the squeamish (you will not look at an ordinary household hammer in quite the same way again), Kill List offers a fresh and emotionally charged reworking of two rather tired British movie genres ”â the Brit crime flick and the horror film. The result is an instant cult classic.