Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodger
Kill List is a film about bad things happening to people who (arguably) deserve everything they get. Jay (Maskell) is a soldier who, following a mysterious disaster in Kiev a year ago, has been attempting to lead a ‘normal’ family life with his wife and their young son. But mounting money problems and marital tensions mean that when his old friend, contract killer Gal (Michael Smiley) comes along with the offer of a high-paying, three-target job, Jay agrees to go along and use his soldiering skills as a hitman. But what begins as an apparently straightforward task is slowly revealed to be something far beyond either men’s expectations or comprehension…
…and that’s about all I’ll say of the plot. Kill List is a film which needs to be watched without much knowledge, in order for it to really work its creeping dread on you. It starts as a sharply-written domestic drama, all husband and wife arguments and uncomfortable dinners fraught with bubbling resentments and tensions. Then when Jay and Gal set out to do their dirty work, things steadily become more and more sinister, as it becomes apparent that they don’t have any concept of who or what they’re dealing with. At least for most of its runtime, Kill List implies horrific things rather than showing or even explaining them outright, asking the audience to fill things in with their imagination (which is always scarier) and no doubt leading to multiple interpretations of the film’s cryptic story. With that said, there are explosions of violence and almost hallucinogenic horror here which will catch even the most hardened horror movie fan off-guard.
The performances are solid throughout, with Michael Smiley as Gal in particular managing to be both likeable and essentially very unpleasant – jokey and outwardly affable over a beer, but a cold professional on the job. He is the source of some darkly amusing moments; Kill List may be a straight-up horror film, but that doesn’t mean it’s starved of droll humour. Conversations between Jay and Gal about sex and annoying restaurant patrons feel like genuine talk between two old friends, and they make the moments when things kicks off into a blazing argument, or a bloody nightmare, all the more jolting.
Filming in Sheffield, Ben Wheatley gets some wonderfully ominous shots of the city, making it an ostensibly ‘everyday’ place which nevertheless seems to hum silently with threat. Co-produced by Warp X productions, Kill List is not only a great horror film set in the Steel City, but also testament to the fertile creativity of independent British film-making.