Ex-squaddie Jay (Neil Maskell) is not a happy bunny. Unemployed for eight months, his back’s killing him, the credit card’s been cancelled, his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) is getting narked having him around the house and the Jacuzzi needs fixing. So when, during a disastrous dinner party with old army mate Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), Gal mentions a lucrative business proposition, Jay decides it’s time he went back to work. Of course, he and Gal aren’t plumbers; they’re contract killers and, in the time-honoured tradition of hit man movies, this is going to be their one last job before retirement. As ever, things don’t go according to plan.
Meeting their sinister, mysterious client (the creepy Struan Rodger) at a desolate hotel, he slashes Jay’s hand, insisting on signing the contract in blood. He gives them a list of targets, three people they must kill, drops hints that he knows more about them than he should, unsettling them. The first target is a priest, his acceptance of his fate unnerving them further. The second is a child pornographer who not only accepts his fate but welcomes it, thanking Jay even as he beats him to death. Slowly, the boys realise they may be in over their heads…
To reveal much more of the plot would reveal just how out of their depth our heroes are. The script by Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump crackles with some killer dialogue and a powerful sense of foreboding as it sucks us deeper and deeper into its labyrinthine darkness. Building slowly from scenes of unhappy domesticity, the script grips as Wheatley & Jump slowly, precisely, turn the screw on their protagonists, damning them to a Hell they voluntarily walk straight into.
Slicker and more assured than his debut feature Down Terrace which played like an episode of The Sopanos directed by Mike Leigh, director Wheatley’s Kill List morphs slowly, seamlessly, from a hit man thriller into something altogether darker as the likable Jay and Gal work their way through the titular list, a palpable sense of menace building as they relentlessly pursue their own doom.
As Jay, Maskell is the raging heart of the film, a damaged, essentially good man who’s just trying to do right by his family, battling forces he’s ill-equipped to deal with while Smiley’s Gal is both the more gregarious, outgoing member of the partnership and the steadier, attempting to rein in Jay’s behaviour as his friend succumbs to the demons that plague him, giving in to the savagery lurking beneath the surface. The chemistry between the two actors sings, both men conveying not only the characters mounting sense of dread and paranoia but, as they banter and bicker, their friendship and, ultimately, their humanity.
The violence when it comes is shockingly visceral and coupled with the film’s dreamy, nightmarish atmosphere, lends it a surreal, almost hallucinatory feel. Wheatley has grown in confidence as a director since Down Terrace and Kill List is a refreshingly bleak, ambiguous film that keeps you guessing right up to the final, devastating twist. Some of the horror fanatics among you might see the ending coming but it still packs a wallop you’ll feel in your guts. Smart, subtle and funnier than a film this scary has a right to be, Kill List is a dark, disturbing genre mash-up that doesn’t disappoint.
Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Struan Rodger, Emma Fryer
Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump