Opening in select theaters tomorrow and currently available on Video on Demand, Kill List is a clever little film from writer/director Ben Wheatley that’s been garnering a good bit of attention around the ol’ internet. It follows the journey of hitman Jay (Neil Maskell) and his buddy Gal (Michael Smiley) as they take on a contract to kill three men. As you might guess, things don’t go entirely smoothly.
If you haven’t yet seen Kill List, you should probably stop reading, go see it, and then come back. You should watch it. It’s good. Don’t read anything else about it. Ignore everything you’ve heard, just walk into it blind and experience it. If you’ve already seen the movie, read on, or if you need extra convincing, read on, but for best results, see it with as little foreknowledge as possible.
The film starts slowly on the kill part, focusing more on the list part, but by the end it racks up 17 on-screen deaths at least and a few more probables.
Kill List delivers the goods when it comes to gore. There’s not a ton of it, but when it’s there, it’s really there. There are plenty of gunshot wounds, some dead animals, some stabbings, a gunshot to the face, cigarette burns, and some beautifully brutal usage of a hammer.
Jay’s wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) is a super hot Swede, but she keeps her clothes on. We see a little bit of naked here and there, but a lot of it is fairly unappealing.
The less you know, the worse things get.
I think your mileage varies with how much you about Kill List walking into the theater. If you know next to nothing, it’s probably fucking brilliant. So if you still haven’t spoiled yourself, get out now! Go see it!
I knew perhaps a little bit too much going into the film, in fact, even knowing too much about the genre can be wrong. The film should be approached primarily as a crime thriller. Again, leave now. Because it’s time to get spoilery.
With allusions to a failed mission in Kiev, it becomes apparent early on that some very strange people are very interested in Jay. The film, much like The Descent, starts out as one thing and only later on becomes something almost entirely different. The Descent is basically 45 solid minutes of the best spelunking movie you’ve ever seen, while Kill List perfectly captures the crumbling home life of an out of work assassin struggling to make ends meet. Once he embarks on his crusade, things slowly get weird, to the point you’re a solid hour in before you start even thinking ‘horror movie,’ which is the great tragedy of the advertising surrounding it. I went into this flick thinking it was a horror movie – and it’s not, not really, at least not until the end. I wish, I wish, oh how I wish I walked in thinking it was a crime flick. Because it will fuck your mind.
The performances are all A+ throughout and the directing is excellent. The sound design is sharp, though there is a lack of score throughout much of the film, which is different. During the third act, the score is more like noise than music, and it’s unsettling. Speaking of the third act, it’s probably the coolest “action in a tunnel” this side of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie – but with significantly more killing and guts spilling out.
As exciting as the third act is, I can’t say it’s entirely original. It quickly becomes apparent that we’re heading for an ending that is a mixture of The Wicker Man and A Serbian Film. I figured out pretty far in advance what the ending was going to be, and pretty much nailed it right on. Still, even knowing, the last few minutes of the film left me with questions – was that laughing or crying? It means an entire world of difference, and we’ll never know.
Despite the somewhat predictable nature of the ending, Kill List is a tightly woven thriller with tremendous, gritty, realistic violence, great performances, and a pretty wonderfully exciting third act. It’s a pretty big downer for the most part, as you’ll figure out quickly, but Wheatley interweaves a great mystery throughout so you’re always wondering, always questioning exactly what’s going on. But he doesn’t tell you. No, that’s for you to stew on.