Review: Kill List (2011)

Director: Ben Wheatley


Kill List is one of those rarities: a film that takes some old rope and polishes it to a brilliant sheen. The trope of ‘one last job’ gets nasty, as Ben Wheatley’s hitman thriller is influenced as much by The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General as it is by anything Mike Hodges made. Blending genres and warping the rules is just the beginning for Kill List.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is a hitman who’s been off the job for eight months. With money running out and his wife Shel (MyAnna Burning) giving him grief, he welcomes a fresh job offered by his partner and friend Gal (Michael Smiley). Armed to the teeth and with a list of people to kill they set off on their bloody quest. Kill List begins relatively calmly, as Jay and Shel welcome Gal and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) for dinner. Though their marital strife threatens the evening, Jay and Shel seem to be a relatively normal couple who just happen to be living on the proceeds of death. One of the most terrifying things about evil is its banality. When confronted by it in the real world, it is far more terrifying than any movie slasher or CGI monster. Thus, when the kills do come, they are quick but unflinchingly nasty (one poor chap bears the brunt of Jay’s temper and a hammer). From its violence to its black humour, Kill List exudes confidence. Wheatley, directing only his second feature film, ramps up the tension to create a true edge-of-the-seat experience. Wheatley and Amy Jump’s script, meanwhile, gives the viewer little chance to breathe; events twist and turn until we arrive at the stage where we genuinely can’t guess what’s going to happen next, whilst the unanswered questions add to the sense of unease. Why are these people being targeted? Who’s the client Jay and Gal are working for? And just what did happen on that botched job in Kiev? Audiences will share in Jay’s perplexion. Despite being a livewire and somewhat repugnant, Jay is an all too human hitman. Maskell is a fireball of coiled anger in his performance. Meanwhile, Smiley supplies much-needed charm and afore-mentioned humour.

As time passes, tension builds to breaking point, culminating in a final fifteen minutes that becomes so bizarre it borders on jumping the shark. Even if the journey is better than the eventual destination, the finale does bring the ultimate lesson of Kill List home: evil begets evil, even those acts committed against evil. As Jay himself admits, “Bad people should suffer.” Kill List is a brutal but brilliant watch; never preachy, always intense and fearful to the last.


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