Kill List (2011)
Certificate 18; Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Starring: Neil Maskell, Harry Simpson, Myanna Buring, Michael Smiley
Reviewed by: David Gillespie (official HCF artist)
Ben Wheatley’s second full feature is a terrifying family/ hitman drama and one of the most powerful and unsettling UK horror movies to be released for some time. It’s lean, uncompromising and skillfully delivered. This film had an incredible effect on me and made me proud, if not shaken, by the direction the British horror scene is heading.
Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (Myanna Buring) are on face value, a middle class couple who have fallen on bad times during the British recession due to Jay’s inability or reluctance to work due to depression. He complains of back pains but his wife argues that it is all in his head. They argue constantly but appear to still hold a loving bond that is pulling them through. Both are preparing for the arrival of Jay’s army buddie, Gal (Michael Smiley) and his quiant girlfriend (Emma Fryer). The latter taking a rather bizarre hobby of carving things on the back of other people’s mirrors. Gal is keen for his friend to join him in some contract work that he promises will pay them both handsomely. Jay needs the money badly. Jay and Gal are hitmen. To say anymore about the plot would waste this journey into hell.
The movie is split into three notable segments. One being family drama, the second brutal crime flick and finally eerie chiller. Hit List unsettles the viewer long before Jay and Gal start stalking the first of their prey. This is firstly accomplished by the intensely creepy score. Resembling cinema classics like 2001 and There will be Blood, the strings dig their way under your skin. The second technique is the style of filming and editing adopted which is ragged and uncomfortable like an overused razor. The cuts are ripped rather than snipped and the overuse of closeups and obscure angles induce motion sickness. When the violence finally does arrive, and by god it arrives with a blunt thud, the effect is even more explosive.
Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley play the two hitmen to perfection. Gal watches helplessly as his colleague devolves into something elemental as his sanity dissolves. He comments, ‘You’re a madman but I love you’. They are both the lowest individuals that you could possibly meet but they are charming, funny and loyal to each other. One hilarious scene where Jay squares up to a posse of bible bashing singers had the audience in stitches. Supporting players are memorable too. Shady employer, Struan Rodger is full of smirking menace, while Gal’s girlfriend, Emma Fryer shines with the very little screen time she is given.
By the time the final mission (split cleverly into chapters) arrives we know that something quite unbearable is going to happen. Kill List does not fail to deliver on this score. Although similar to the sucker punch twist featured in another shocker that was raved about by the patrons of this website last year, Kill List subtler approach appears to work in it’s favour. Miss this genre classic at your peril.