Although during this review I will mention many films and directors that Kill List reminded me of, it should in no way diminish what an audaciously original director Ben Wheatley is. He has a gripping visual style that takes one by the throat, and if the material is familiar, it’s presented in a way I’ve never seen before.
Kill List is really three films in one. The first act is a socioeconomic drama worthy of Mike Leigh. A couple and their young son live in middle-class desperation. The man, Jay (Neil Maskell), has been out of work for eight months. The wife, Shel (Myanna Buring), is just about out of patience. Their son, Sam, is fond of tales of King Arthur. One night his father tells him a bed time story about bombs in Iraq, even though Sam wants to hear about Camelot.
The couple have a small dinner party, with Jay’s old friend, Gal (Micheal Smiley), and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). Tensions between Jay and Shel erupt and they have a screaming argument. Things calm down, though, and the guests don’t leave, and they settle into a comfortable evening of drinking wine. There are a few things that tell us not everything is normal–Jay keeps machine guns in the garage (some bought by Shel) and Fiona scratches a Satanic-looking symbol on the back of a mirror.
Gal urges Jay to take a job, which turns out to be as hired killer. Here the movie becomes a hit man thriller, with a dash of Quentin Tarantino and a soupcon of Martin Scorsese. The Tarantino comes from the droll banter between the two killers. Smiley, a stand up comedian, has a lot of great lines, such as when discovering one of the victims is a priest, he says, “oh well, at least it’s not a toddler.” When the mysterious client, who cuts a gouge into Jay’s hand as if to sign the contract in blood, Gal asks him if it’s his wanking hand. Told no, Gal says, “Every cloud!”
The Scorsese elements come into play when the pair’s second victim is a collector of pornography. Gal and Jay watch a DVD that we don’t see, but judging by Jay’s reaction, it’s either child pornography, a snuff film, or both. He goes off the reservation and tortures the victim until he finds out where the stuff comes from. He then finishes the man off with a hammer. Like Travis Bickle, Jay takes his revenge, forgetting hit man protocol in the process.
Finally, the third act. Ah, the third act–whether one likes this movie or not is going to be based on the reaction to the ending, where the film completely goes off the rails, as if it were The Wicker Man directed by David Lynch. I won’t go into too many details, suffice it to say the words “what the fuck?” may be uttered frequently. Though the ending is as if the movie fell asleep and experienced a nightmare, I thought it fit perfectly with what came before, and bizarre and unrealistic as it may be, it is nonetheless spellbinding. I couldn’t take my eyes away, especially in a scene filmed in a dark tunnel.
Be ready for anything when watching Kill List, and hail a fresh new voice of British cinema, Ben Wheatley.
My grade for Kill List: A.