“It’s all gone!” These are the first words screamed by the wife of our tragic protagonist in Ben Wheatley‘s hypnotic and unsettling thriller, Kill List. The initial phrase is spawned by an awakening to the fact that the couple is suffering from financial problems. Yet, as the film spirals deeper into darker territory, this simple phrase takes on new meaning.
Discovering how far this film is going to descend into the darkness is the real joy and thrill of Kill List. Neil Maskell stars as the former soldier turned gun-for-hire, Jay. After its implied that a botched “job” in Kiev damaged Jay’s body (he has bought a hot-tub to help cure his aching back), months off of work is starting to take a financial burden on Jay, his wife, and their young boy. This stress erupts during a dinner between the two also attended by Jay’s partner Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). The pressure from his wife and now from his partner/friend triggers Jay to dust off his guns and take on a new job that calls to kill three people: A priest, a librarian, and a M.P. (Member of Parliament). Jay and Gal’s journey takes some unexpected turns that forces the two to confront some of their own dark demons.
If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it is because this tale of hit-men coming to terms with death isn’t exactly new territory. The initial set-up isn’t the most original premise. Thankfully, Wheatley’s approach to the story comes off as fresh and exciting. His camera is invigorated by these two frank and damaged souls played perfectly by the lead actors. Utilizing a haunting score that only highlights the off-kilter editing and camera-work, Kill List forces the viewer to enter in an almost trance-like state that feels like you are slipping in and out of reality; mimicking the mental state of Jay. I enjoyed this natural, documentary-esque approach but some may be bothered by the occasional but precise cuts to black screens before suddenly cutting back to the action. These fractured moments create an uneasy rhythm that I found only helped draw you more into the story.
There’s a grittiness to the overall feel of the film that really shines forth in the dirty and bloody details of the duo’s job. Laurie Rose‘s cinematography captures every hammer hit, cut of the knife, and face pummeling in brutal realism. It is at times extremely graphic. Yet, the real horror comes from the final twenty minutes as the giant death-ridden picture is finally revealed. Throughout the film, several characters speak messages that add to a larger mystery and deeper purpose to the events. All of these comments and images will help keep you guessing until the finale. Upon second viewing of the film, unfortunately some of these lines will leave you scratching your head even more and only add to a maddening debate about their inclusion in the script at all (while revealing some plot holes). This doesn’t necessarily take anything away from the gut-punch you get from the finale. It is clearly meant as an out of left field shocking ending, even though it comes off as more of an homage to a certain British horror classic from the 70′s that I won’t ruin for you.
Ben Wheatley is a young promising director that makes his name prominent on future directors to keep an eye on. Kill List may not seem original on the surface, but the bleak feeling and mood that emanates from it is an experience that you won’t soon forget. If you try not to think about some of the logic and reasoning behind it all, you might too be scared by this dark excursion into one -man’s personal hell.