Kill List – The Exposed Review
A meticulously drafted blow to the head, Kill List will garner plenty of attention for the unflinching brutality unleashed by its characters.
Nevertheless, its most impressive achievement lies in the thousand-yard stare of Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump’s vision. Their riveting, hypnotic movie is a double dare of a film – basically a feature length reimagining of the moment in previous Warp Films' thriller Dead Man’s Shoes when a leonine Paddy Considine responds to a ‘what you staring at?’ with a terrifyingly feral flash of bared teeth across the floor of a pub [link – contains swearing].
But Kill List’s descent into an old-as-the-woods heart of darkness holds an unbreakable spell thanks to its charisma rather than any supernatural hoodoo. The film shares an ex-army lead with Meadow's psycho thriller, but Kill List's central figure, the hair-triggered Jay (Neil Maskell), is a surprisingly engaging and Dexter-ous killer. Deeply in love with a beautiful, tough-as-nails wife Chel (MyAnna Buring), endlessly attentive to his young son, Jay’s talent for killing is framed in terms of profession rather than passion. But mounting financial difficulties and the need to put some distance between him and a darkly muttered incident in Kiev still mean that when squaddie pal Gal turns up with a proposition to ‘get back on the horse’ the couple are pretty soon discussing Jay’s tooling up…
In another sign of the power of Wheatley and Jump’s gaze, like many reviewers I'm going to stop short of revealing where the story goes from here. But I will say that while I came to Kill List excited to see Warp Films’ take on the kind of meadowed, eerie horror of The Wicker Man and Requiem for a Village, what surprised me was how hard I fell for the angular domesticity of Jay’s quietly suburban hell. The thrown crockery and fake sword fights are unnessesary exclamation marks in a film as notable for its understanding of language as for its largely wordless third act body swerve.
The latter is possibly the only escapee from what is an uncompromisingly violent film. There’s been some slightly lazy comparisons made to David Lynch in writings about Kill List but if Wheatley’s as violent as Lynch he’s substantially less lurid. In fact the director’s confident sixpence turns between the convivial and the fatal are more reminiscent of early Beat Takeshi or Viz, references that appears to stand up to Wheatley’s work in animation and comedy showcases.
Like Takeshi, Wheatley is less sure footed when he’s dealing with action. And the third act’s fevered rhythms don’t play to the director's arch eye. But I haven’t seen such vividly drawn characters in a long time, and Wheatly treats these beautifully carved avatars with the kind of gleeful, impossible to resist puppetry of a child thrusting action figures into one another’s plastic chests.
Kill List is currently on at The Showroom Sheffield. Click here for tickets.
Words by Rob Barker