Kill List, 2011.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer and Harry Simpson.
A hitman takes on a new contract, leading him deep into the heart of darkness.
Following its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s (Down Terrace) second feature, Kill List, has been generating plenty of hype on the festival circuit, including a well-received screening at FrightFest 2011, where it was named Best Film ahead of the likes of The Innkeepers and The Woman. While it failed to turn this buzz into box-office receipts upon its limited theatrical release back in September, Kill List will be hoping to ride a wave of positive reviews when it arrives on DVD and Blu-ray here in the UK.
Despite all the praise it’s received, Kill List has also been dividing audiences, with one side proclaiming it as the best thing to happen to British horror in years and the other criticising the film for its utterly left-field ending. I’m siding with the latter, and although I’ll try to avoid spoiling too much of the ending in this review, if you’d like to go into this film completely cold (which is probably best), then you might want to stop reading now.
Kill List follows Jay (Neil Maskell), a former soldier and hitman who’s been struggling to come to terms with his last job. Not only has this left him physically and emotionally scarred, but eight months of lying about the house has also put a strain on his marriage to Shel (MyAnna Buring). Fortunately things seem to be on the up when Jay is offered a new contract by his friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and the two partners begin to work their way through the ‘kill list’, which leads them down a sinister path towards a climax straight out of The Wicker Man.
The whole ‘genre mash-up’ idea is a good one, with Kill List starting out as a kind of social drama before segueing in to your typical hitman effort (complete with Quentin Tarantino-esque title cards). While there’s nothing really new here the execution is good, but sadly the final jump into occult horror territory really is a step too far – it’s trying to be too clever for its own good, and it just didn’t work for me at all. It feels like they’ve mistakenly spliced in the final reel from another film and it completely overshadowed such a promising first hour.
Unnecessary ending aside, Kill List is a technically accomplished film – especially considering its £500,000 budget – and Wheatley’s direction is solid through-out. There’s plenty of brutal, graphic violence for those of that persuasion and the likes of Maskell (Rise of the Footsoldier, The Football Factory), Smiley (Burke and Hare, Luther), Buring (The Descent, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1) and young Harry Simpson as Jay’s son, Sam, all deliver strong performances that help to pull us into the story. It’s just a shame then that almost every single plot strand is left hanging in a final effort to shock; in all honesty, it’s probably more likely to leave you scratching your head.