Viewers will find themselves well into this intriguing movie before they get a sense of what it’s about and where it’s going. And even then, they’ll never correctly predict the film’s outcome or foretell its bizarre ending. Kill List is thoroughly unpredictable and derives a great deal of its disquieting power from that very fact.
Writer/director Ben Wheatley followed up Down Terrace, his impressive feature filmmaking debut, with this second, even more flabbergasting film. Kill List, at first glance, appears to be the story of two British hitmen, Jay (Maskell) and Gal (Smiley), who stand to come into a bundle of money after assassinating three names on their “kill list.” Who has hired them or what offenses the targets committed is beyond the killers’ ken. After a cache of pornography is discovered in the possession of one of their victims, Jay grows increasingly unhinged.
Although Kill List is a dark and creepy film, it is also very funny at times. Much of the dialogue is improvised by the actors, and the banter helps give the film a naturalistic feel. The film’s opening scene drops us into a verbally vicious brawl between Jay and his Swedish wife Shel (Buring) that’s so disorienting that the viewer may wonder if the projectionist has begun the film in the right place. That’s followed by a hilariously uncomfortable dinner party. Wheatley constantly contrasts tones and emotions so that no stable quarter can be found. Without spoiling the ending, let’s just say that the film’s final sequences are so outrageous that they threaten to undermine all the carefully calibrated kitchen-sink realism that has come before. That’s a shame, too, because Kill List, which premiered at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival, is one of the most fascinating genre-bending films to come out of England in a long while. (For an interview with Wheatley, see “Shock and Awe,” March 18, 2011.)