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19 Things We Learned from Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ Commentary

“If this was a Woody Allen film there’d be a bit of jazz here.”
a mask in Kill List
IFC Films
By  · Published on November 3rd, 2020

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits one of our favorite cult thrillers, Kill List.

Ben Wheatley‘s latest film, Rebecca, is new to Netflix, and while it has its fans I’m sadly not among them. (I do love Hitchcock’s adaptation, though!) It feels far too safe of a product for the filmmaker and is ultimately a tepid watch, but that’s a first for Wheatley as the bulk of his films are anything but lukewarm and dull. Exhibit A? 2011’s still brilliant Kill List.

Wheatley’s most memorable film is among our favorites around these parts, as evidenced by its appearance on our list of the best cult horror movies, and it remains an absolute banger. The film shifts beautifully — and violently — from domestic drama to crime thriller to nightmarish horror, and we love it. So keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…

Kill List (2011)

Commentators: Ben Wheatley (director/co-writer), Amy Jump (co-writer)

1. After introducing themselves, Wheatley points out that he and Jump are also married. “At the beginning of the commentary we’re married, by the end we’re not sure,” adds Jump.

2. She’s not a fan of the opening scrawl that draws the cultish symbol, adding that “I don’t think it’s necessary.” Wheatley disagrees.

3. Wheatley wanted a few foxes running around near the couple’s house, but the cost was prohibitive in part because they would have had to build a large fence around the area.

4. She can’t recall why they show Jay (Neil Maskell) playing with his wife (MyAnna Buring) and child in slow motion. “Because it looks more menacing slowed down,” replies Wheatley.

5. The script was written for Maskell and Michael Smiley, so when they shot some quick scenes in advance with the two to show financiers they were able to tell the money people that these were the actual leads.

6. Wheatley says a normal horror movie would feature monsters jumping out, but he’s seen a great response to the more relatable horror of hearing your parents yelling at each other.

7. There’s a cat in the film, and they had some issues because it had a cold. The trainer also mentioned that “you can’t use the cats outdoors because cats don’t act outdoors.” This forced him to nix a scene involving the cat watching them from the shrubs, “smugly.”

8. The priest is shot, and while they had cast his head with plans to blow it out in a bloody mess they instead ended up having to use mediocre CG instead.

9. Jay and Gal (Smiley) investigate the storage locker filled with porn and briefly watch something horrible on the video screen. It’s never stated what they’re seeing, but “Smiley’s imagination was so active in this scene he said he almost threw up into his own mouth.”

10. The librarian telling Jay “thank you” was Jump’s idea. “It’s scarier if someone asks for it,” she adds.

11. The sequence where Jay hammers the librarian’s knee cap and hand horrifies audiences and filmmaker alike. “I tend not to watch this bit,” says Wheatley.

12. Neighborhood kids had surrounded them while they filmed the bit with the two hit men carrying the librarian’s body out and dropping f-bombs. The tykes were excited to see someone making a movie.

13. The garden where Jay is seen burying their murdered cat actually contained several buried cats.

14. Maskell’s father worked on the film too as a gaffer.

15. The script originally posited that there were two warring factions within the cult and one was making a violent bid for power. Mention of it was ultimately excised, but the idea remains.

16. “I wish there was a BAFTA for swearing,” says Wheatley as he believes Maskell would easily win it.

17. He believes Shel is saying “fucking amateurs” in Swedish while threading the silencer onto her pistol.

18. Jump asks him to comment on the end sequence as Jay takes the knife to the hunchbacked character, and he replies “I did realize as we were filming it that it might not reflect well on me as a father.”

19. Some people apparently interpret Shel’s laughter as she dies as meaning she’s in on it, but both Wheatley and Jump disagree. “Now I always think she’s a keen appreciator or irony there… because that’s not a plan any mother would have.”

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“We shot like half the movie in four days.”

“Some people don’t eat tomatoes and things like that.”

“This fucking cat.”

“You can keep your Jason Bourne… this is what it looks like when real men fight.”

“Dads go too far sometimes.”

“I’m always transfixed by his nipple in this.”

“Lots of filth had to be cut out of this scene.”

“It’s a movie where a horrible man wins a hat.”

“If this was a Woody Allen film there’d be a bit of jazz here.”

Final Thoughts

Kill List remains a modern masterpiece with growing tension, gruesome violence, and a real wallop of an ending. Wheatley and Jump are fun commenters and offer an entertaining and light counterbalance to the grimness unfolding on the screen. They share thoughts on the film’s production as well as its cast and crew, and it’s a fun time.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.