DIRECTOR Ben Wheatley WRITER Amy Jump; Ben Wheatley STARS Neil Maskell; MyAnna Buring; Harry Simpson DVD & BLU-RAY 26 December
Ben Wheatley has created three quarters of a brilliant film, a masterful piece of kitchen-sink drama juxtaposed with film noir. The characters are well developed, the plot oozes with intrigue, and for those who care to look, the director has peppered this violent thriller with unobtrusive symbolism and metaphor. He comments on class, politics, morals, relationships and religion, but if that is not of interest it can safely be ignored behind a rigidly taut and immersive experience, as we are drawn into the world of two likeable hit men who undertake to complete the titular list of murders. Wheatley also manages to insert black humour successfully without destroying the tension. Indeed, a scene involving a group of Christians, whose singing attracts the ire of the lead characters, is genuinely hilarious. It is an effective technique designed to provide a deceptive lull in the action but a risky one if not done competently; here it is perfectly executed.
As someone who is accustomed, perhaps even desensitised to cinematic brutality, I was surprised to find that some of the violence in Kill List shocked me. Perhaps such scenes feel stark because although they are frequent they are not constant. They are also delivered with a detailed viciousness. One such moment where someone’s head comes second best to hammer blows (festooned with skull, scalp and brains) is not easily forgotten. It is rather like the fire extinguisher scene in Irreversible, but instead of taking place in a darkened club, here it is shot in a brightly lit room. Kill List is not gratuitous though; each death furthers the plot and provides an insight into the characters carrying out the assassinations and the reasons for it.
So Wheatley had me hooked; in fact he had me pretty much netted and on my way to the filleting board. And then: the final act. Kill List changes tack sharper than when From Dusk Till Dawn transitioned from a road movie to a vampire flick. It is reminiscent of the out-of-nowhere conclusion to The Last Exorcism and so left-field, it spoils the film. I love an ambiguous ending or a clever shift of tone if it is set up well, but the problem with Kill List is that what ends up happening feels arbitrary and therefore a little cheap, removing the suspension of disbelief.
This takes nothing away from Kill List though; it is a superbly crafted piece of dark cinema and well worth a watch. Just brace yourself for the final act — it’s a bit of a jolt.