Ben Wheatley’s Kill List is a bizarre combination of a hyper-masculine hitman movie, all-too familiar domestic drama and something else entirely different (which would ruin the surprise if I mentioned it).
Kill List begins with Jay (Neil Maskell) having a domestic with his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). Money is tight and Jay hasn’t worked for eight months due to a possibly non-existent back problem. And their jacuzzi is broken. Jay is also annoyed that Shel has invited his friend Gal (Michael Smiley) round for dinner. This escalates into a number of aggressive arguments, played out in front of their young son, culminating in an incredibly awkward row over dinner. In the aftermath, Gal suggests to Jay that they take on one more lucrative pay-day because, of course, they are hit-men. Strangely, the job has been organized by Shel. Things get even stranger when Gal’s almost catatonic date Fiona scrawls a bizarre symbol onto the back of their bathroom mirror.
The pair get started on the job after meeting with their employer in a run-down seaside hotel. Three targets seems like a simple enough job, but as Jay and Gal pursue them things start to get mighty strange. Why do two of their targets seem reconciled to their fates? What happened on their last job in Kiev? Who is the mysterious Fiona?
Wheatley’s skilled direction gives what could have been a run-of-the-mill hit-man film a terrifying edge. The camera angles are odd and intrusive, the editing is unconventional and the soundtrack is unpleasantly droney. The script, co-written with his wife Amy Jump, brilliantly captures the awkward interchanges between a couple under strain and the odd couple friendship between Jay and Gal.
Kill List is by no means perfect. There are a couple of unexplained plot points and the final stages of the film don’t necessarily make sense. However the film is remarkably intense, brutally violent and darkly funny. Maskell, Buring and Smiley all revel in Wheatley and Jump’s excellent script. The film may not find a massive audience at the cinema (at the time of writing its only showing on four screens in London) but it will undoubtedly feature on many best of year lists and propel Wheatley into the big-time.