FrightFest 2011: ‘Kill List’ review


With Kill List (2011), Ben Wheatley (director of the critically acclaimed Down Terrace [2009]) has created this year’s most horrendously violent and bizarrely surreal film by simply amalgamating the generic conventions of a hitman thriller with the eerie iconography of occult horrors such as The Wickerman (1973).

Jay (Neil Maskell) hasn’t worked in eight months, instead choosing to live of his savings whilst isolating himself from the outside world. However, the £40K he had hidden under the mattress is beginning to dwindle into little more than pocket change. This financial instability coupled with Jay’s lack of social charm is taking its toll on his marriage to Shel (MyAnna Buring) causing their comfortable middle class home to become a melting pot of domestic anguish.

During a rather heated dinner party, Jay’s best pal and former work partner, Gal (Michael Smiley) comes to him with a potential assignment, an easy job that’s local and pays well, the perfect combination for an ex gun-for-hire who’s become noticeably restless and easily agitated. The job in question involves a ‘Kill List’ (fittingly) containing three nameless victims, ‘The Priest’, ‘The Librarian’ and ‘The Hunchback’, but as this relatively simple mission progresses it soon becomes apparent these once seasoned professionals may have bitten of more than they can chew.

Kill List is as deceptive a film as you’ll see all year, starting of innocently enough, we’re presented with the everyday lives of our central characters with little more than a brooding score to prepare us for the carnage that will ensue. This gentle but edgy introduction helps the audience gauge the extent of the inner turmoil experienced by Jay and his family whilst successfully depicting an incredibly natural family dynamic, complete with a believable equilibrium between joy and despair rarely seen on film. As to be expected from a Warp film, the soundtrack is note perfect, amplifying the film’s sinister ambiance and turning a noticeably ‘independent’ film into something a little more noteworthy.

Sadly the film isn’t without its flaws and as the narrative shifts so does the film’s style, at times leaving the audience a little too lost amongst the hectic plot to fully appreciate the depth of what’s occurring on screen. From gritty domestic drama to frantically paced hitman thriller before eventually settling down into an exhilarating, nerve shattering finale (which, despite the urge to shout out “what the hell just happened” will leave you completely speechless) Kill List barely gives you a moment to scrutinise the events you’re witnessing.

Kill List is an emotional rollercoaster of a film which devastates and amuses in equal measures. If you like your action and scares to come with a degree of intellectual stimulation then Kill List will undoubtedly satisfy your cinematic needs, sticking with you like a cryptic nightmare long after its final credits have passed. British horror has rarely been this good since the seventies, and Kill List is a film that not only requires but demands a second viewing to truly appreciate its rich tapestry of ideas.

Patrick Gamble