Kill List is a low budget, British horror film that follows the story of a currently out of work hitman and his struggle to provide for his family, that can’t be too horrifying… Right!?
The less you know about Kill List the better. I always keep my synopsis brief when describing films and this is no exception. This is technically Ben Wheatleys second feature film and boy does he demonstrate he is one of the most talented British Directors/writers working today.
Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (also his wife) wanted to capitalise on their first foray into feature length filmmaking that was Down Terrace. Wheatley wanted a project he could immediately show to producers/investors instead of turning up to meetings empty handed. Normally this could result in a botched script or rushed ideas, Kill List is a remarkable exception.
Producer Andrew Starke said he really wanted to push Wheatley into producing a genre piece, especially a horror film. After the success of Down Terrace he quickly came round to the idea of Wheatley doing a British crime thriller, well here Wheatley has taken these genres and blended them into a beautifully horrifying and violent cocktail.
I like Wheatley as both a Writer and Director, he employs these attributes to help him merge the tonal shifts in the film effortlessly. One part family drama, one part violent thriller and an extra part horror Kill List seems like an impossible feat, especially as to my knowledge at least, these genres have never been merged together in this way before. Not only do we have these engrossing and completely natural tonal shifts but Wheatley also incorporates an impossibly oppressive atmosphere. The film slowly wraps itself around you and it truly does chill you to your very bone.The film always reminds me of when the classification board asked Wes Craven to cut his film “New Nightmare”, when Craven asked the specifics of what should be cut, non were stated, it was simply the atmosphere of it that was horrifying, this couldn’t be more true here.
Wheatley jokes in one of the interviews provided with the Blu-ray that both him and his wife have a lot of friction when writing together, well out of great struggle comes great art. The duo have a knack for writing dialogue that is very natural, funny and also pretty creepy. I love the interactions of the characters, Jay and Shel seem like a real couple who are struggling financially and aren’t afraid to show their differences in a particularly awkward dinner party sequence. Gal is Jays best friend and fellow hitman partner, their interactions together are also very believable and provide a more realistic interpretation of British working class “guns for hire”.
With a very minor budget (£500,000 estimated) comes relatively minor actors, in no way a detriment to the film, Wheatley has assembled a fine line up here.
Playing the films protagonist Jay is Neil Maskell, Maskell has an extremely British quality to him, which lends itself to the overall mood of the film, he is a hitman and what he does is not pleasant, he is a damaged individual but he is not unlikeable. I don’t think this is a character you are meant to fall in love with and his story delves into some very dark places. Maskell looks like an everyday guy, he is not tall in stature, super athletic, nor is he incredibly strong but when he is aggravated and threatened, shouting lines such as “Wait until you see me after this fucking shit!”, you know he means business.
MyAnna Buring is Shel, Jays wife and mother to their child. Shel is a well written female character who is more than just someone to nag Jay, she has a background in the military and has her own character arc. Buring brings a strong will and determination to Shel, she understands Jay and while they have their differences she loves him.
Michael Smiley is Jays literal partner in crime, Gal. Michael Smiley is an underrated talent and has been in everything from Black Mirror to The Lobster and even Luther, he is watchable in everything and here is no different. Smiley has a rapour with Maskell that translates wonderfully to their characters, even when Jay has his violent outbursts, Gal reassures him that its nothing to worry about, they are best friends for life.
Emma Fryer plays the mysterious Fiona, she has these enticing glaring eyes that appear very innocent, Gal quickly dispels this myth explaining she is practically a nymphomaniac. Fryer has limited screen time compared to the other three previously mentioned characters but she is suitably creepy.
The cinematography in the film is realistic, Wheatley says he wanted to make “realist horror” this is an extremely difficult trick to pull off. Its a smart move though that cinematographer Laurie Rose has chosen to shoot like a suburban drama. This creative decision only adds to the claustrophobia and varying tonal shifts of the film.
The soundtrack to this film deserves a special mention, composer Jim Williams has created a very subtle score, its almost easy to miss as it blends into the film but its haunting and almost angelic quality are strangely beautiful in the context of the film. Williams even employed the shark equivalent of whale song onto the soundtrack, which when you see it implemented into the tunnel scene, you’ll certainly understand why they chose it and wont forget it.
The film has three editors attached to it, Robin Hill (who also plays Stuart), Writer Amy Jump and finally Ben Wheatley. The editing here is very professional and keeps the film moving very nicely, the film stands at just over 1 hour and 30 minutes. The film uses quite a few fades and jump cuts which actually work here, they add to the almost surreal, dreamlike quality to the film.
Wheatley has moulded a small masterpiece here, I think many people are put off by the impenetrable nature of the film and uncomfortable final act. For me, this is a lesson in tonal shifting and genre blending. Its very similar to a modern lovecrafitian tale, the idea that there is something unforeseeably evil and inescapable that haunts our protagonist and their eventual fate at the conclusion of the film is both unpredictable and horrifying. Wheatley must have an extreme fondness for The Wicker Man.
I wanted to introduce a small section to these reviews called “Upon further examination”. When you have seen as many films as I have you begin to notice small references or inspirations that link to other films and I wanted to use this as a way of pointing out funny little observations I make while watching them. A few interesting ones for Kill List are:
- Watching the film again, Wow! How many clues are there?
- I love the cult/religious themes in this film and was anyone STRONGLY reminded of True Detective when our two hitmen view the videotape they probably shouldn’t? Although Kill List was made before T.D.
- Struan Rodger who plays one of the shady “mob” men has an extremely strong physical resemblance to Donald Trump does he not? The bizarre complexion and seriously bad hair? Sorry Mr. Rodger.
- Did anyone catch that nice tracking/long shot in the film? Poor dog!
Kill List is available on Blu-ray and steelbook. I own the Zavvi exclusive steelbook and its a really nice one, it has a sort of matte sleek finish to it which looks great and there’s even an image of the hammer printed on the back of the case to remind you of THAT scene. The extras on the Blu-ray are quite sparse with only a making of and some short interviews with the Director, cast and producers as well as the films trailer. The making of section on the Blu-ray is actually really creepy, they decided to have minimal verbal interaction with anyone involved in the film and instead just have this creepy music overlayed with various Behind the scenes footage, its very peculiar! I picked up the steelbook for £6.99 in the Zavvi sale and you can get it here:
P.s. if you are purchasing the standard Blu-ray or DVD off Amazon make sure you get the double play pack, its cheaper AND you get both the Blu-ray and DVD!