Kill List

Problems at home?  Family getting you down?  Don’t take that stress to work with you, especially if you’re meant to be a discreet hitman.

Jay (played with an exceptionally short temper by Neil Maskell) has been living the good life for a long time, on the proceeds of his past, but now the money’s all but gone.  When Gal (Spaced’s Michael Smiley) tells him his money worries could be gone if a certain 3 people were made to die, he doesn’t take that much persuading.

On the surface, and indeed for the bulk of the film, KILL LIST is a gritty English “one last job” drama.  Irish cinema put out a bunch of these in the mid 2000s, they were all brilliant and they all probably starred Brendan Gleeson.  A lot of KILL LIST feels like those jolly road movies, with nothing going to plan, mysterious meetings, and every other word being a swear.

What’s different here, however, is that the experience is completely without comic relief.  The few jocular exchanges that might have humanised the leads are buried in a jarring, unnerving soundtrack, seemingly intent on keeping the viewer permanently on edge. KILL LIST is a pretty brutal film, and at times can be quite unpleasant (just because Jay needs, in disgust, to watch the kiddy porn he’s found in the possession of one of his targets, does that mean we have to listen to it?)

Like FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, there’s much more to this than the opening caper, however.  There are numerous little moments throughout the film that seem strange or incongruous, and by the end, you will probably be left with questions.  Answers are out there, but it’s up to you what to make of them.

Writer/director Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST has polarized critics like Marmite.  It’s certainly an ambitious piece, but when the third act swings into view, you’ll know whether you want any on your toast.

10 thoughts on “Kill List”

  1. A story like this needs to throb with charisma, wit and neurosis. This isn’t a derivative film – if Ben Wheatley has read Ira Levin, or watched Polanski or Roeg, he is tone deaf and hasn’t learned a thing from them. Wheatley has cited Arthurian legend as part of his narrative framework. This baffles me utterly. The story isn’t difficult to follow – a traumatised war veteran becomes a hitman to pay the bills, not realising that he has been recruited into a suicide cult. There are a scattering of foreshadowing devices. A dead cat could follow the story. It just doesn’t have any personality. Harry’s right about the alienating effect of the soundtrack – it’s like a high-frequency anti-loitering device, or a bitter nail-biting deterrent. One of the few negative reviews I’ve read commented, “The editing is interesting. Or is it just bad. I wasn’t sure.” I don’t like to trash films here, and I asked Harry to be gentle with KILL LIST and he has hit all the nails on the head with great tact. Having watched the film, though, I invite him to return to this comments thread for a quick trample, if he likes. Why on earth are so many respectable critics waving their thumbs in the air??

  2. (Great review btw – It instigated me to watch it tonight)

    I must say, I absolutely loved the film. I feel it doesn’t need explanation further, as all was pretty much portrayed; I was happy with it’s entirety. An original story, some horrible premises and stylishly shot. Couldn’t really fault it.

    1. Hi Ryan, so glad you enjoyed Harry’s article and that we succeeded in offering a review that encourages the reader to draw their own conclusion. You’re certainly in good company – Peter Bradshaw loved this film. I couldn’t help expressing my personal disappointment, though, because it had been compared to so many of my favourite films and for me, didn’t live up to any of them. If you enjoyed KILL LIST you’ll surely love ROSEMARY’S BABY, DON’T LOOK NOW and THE WICKER MAN – I dare say you’ve seen those but for suburban horror you might also enjoy EXHIBIT A ( and SNOWTOWN. I’d love to know how you think KILL LIST measures up to any of these. Many thanks for your comment and I hope you come back to the site!

  3. I loved it. It was oppressive and nasty and made me feel thoroughly uneasy – and therefore was pretty much a success. It’s not up there with Roeg and Polanski’s best work but I don’t think it tries to be. There hasn’t been a British horror this unique and singular since The Descent.

    1. Hey Jamie – I agree that it was oppressive and nasty, but that element was wasted on me because I never felt able to engage with any of the characters beyond “That’s Tyres” and “That man is sad and angry”. This is a shame because I thought the actors were excellent, even the nipper – but didn’t get a chance to flourish. As I said, I don’t think it’s a derivative film but it’s persistently compared by critics to those writers and film makers I mentioned. So in a way, it’s obviously a referential film but didn’t leave me with any coherent impression of the creator’s character or style. Maybe it would have worked better as a short? Maybe the whole Arthurian/pagan mashup would have worked if it flowed like “The Fisher King” or “Jacob’s Ladder”?

      Decent post-Descent British horror is there if you look for it: “F”, “Eden Lake”, “Exhibit A” and “The Disappeared” – or “The Living And The Dead”, “Attack the Block” and “Mum and Dad” (these last three aren’t such apt comparisons to Kill “List” but are all ace).

  4. I find this film far more elemental and powerful than the others you mention. By drawing a line between the implicit violence of a troubled marriage, and the explicit violence of a job going badly wrong, we’re drawn into the world, not by the believability of the characters, but by the brute force of raw meaning. Those other films you mention – the one’s I’ve seen are controlled, consistent, and often very good, but this one gets my vote over them by being stunningly nasty and ultimately more powerful. I agree with you, I don’t think it’s as oblique or as obscure as it’d like to believe, but I think the point it makes it does so with nauseating power. I also think the editing is a thing of wonder and beauty, like nothing I’ve ever seen before, jarring and disturbing. It’s the editing that gives the film a real edge, and is the violent heart of the whole thing.

    1. I wish I had seen it, this film you describe so beautifully 🙁 You’re making me scared that I’ve contracted that disease Stan from “South Park” gets in “Getting Old”.

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