MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Ben Wheatley
FilmPulse Score: 8.5/10
Kill List is categorized as a horror thriller, but it is much more than that. The latest from British director Ben Wheatley could also be labeled as a drama, a horror movie, a psychological film, a thriller, or a crime film. Whatever label you choose to give this movie should definitely be preceded with the words “Must See.”
The film starts out more as a look into the dysfunctional marriage between the lead, Jay – played brilliantly by Neil Maskell – and his wife, Shel, who is played just as well by MyAnna Buring. Jay and Shel spend most of their days arguing over the typical things married couples quarrel about, including finances or Jay’s buying ten bottles of wine for an upcoming get-together with friends. Mostly, they argue about finances, or lack thereof, as Jay hasn’t worked a day in almost a year. So when Jay’s ex-Military friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) come over for dinner, Gal sells him on a job of killing three people, with the promise of huge payoff.
Jay and Gal meet with the client, receive payment, and get information on the first of three on the kill list, which is The Priest. The scene is announced by way of a black and white title card, which is used to announce all of the potential victims. I must say, that I for one am loving the resurgence of the title in modern cinema (seen also, recently, in films like Incendies and Hanna). The technique adds a sense of gravity to each scene, and brings what feels like a sense of stability to the film, in juxtaposition with the rapid decline of its characters. While titles typically are used to introduce a new scene in a film, it’s also easy to see them as marking the finality of the preceding scene. The audience, along with Jay, is given no time to ponder what’s just been seen, and is moved through the story at the pace of the filmmaker.
The violence and aggression inflicted upon the victims become increasingly brutal and difficult to watch. As Jay slowly becomes more and more unhinged, the violence becomes almost sadistic in its brutality. The first killing seems to have awakened a rage inside of Jay previously unrealized. During each killing, the camera never turns away from the violence on-screen, regardless of the brutality of Jay’s actions. The cinematography during these scenes is unnerving and unrelenting. Yet these scenes seem to be so much more than simple violence for violence’s sake – Wheatley seems to be sending the audience a message through the actions of Jay and his victims. These scenes leave the viewer with many uncomfortable unanswered questions – such as why every victim thanks Jay while they are being murdered.
The bleakness of this film is made all the more intense by the often unsettling score throughout. Moments of perfect silence are interspersed with the sounds of indecipherable children’s whispers. Occurring only during scenes where Jay appears, it increases the viewers awareness of just how unstable Jay is. It is a powerful effect; one can only wonder if Jay is hearing it as well, and if so, exactly what he is hearing – who is the voice and what it symbolizes for him.
With an ending reminiscent of The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, Kill List leaves the viewer stunned. The end of this film leaves more questions than answers, and may require multiple viewings; this will be a film you think about for days to come. Kill List is deeply layered, and is about so much more than simple violence – desperation, manipulation, and the fragility of the human psyche are prevalent themes throughout. Jay’s desperation in accepting the initial job, which he saw only as a means of providing for his wife and son, leads him to commit unspeakable acts of violence, culminating in the horrific murder that leads to his being crowned the king of killers.