Kill List

Kill List

2011, NR, 92 min. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 2, 2012

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.)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Kill List
sxswf: Kill List's Michael Smiley Speaks
sxswf: Kill List's Michael Smiley Speaks
The star of Spaced, Down Terrace, and Kill List talks shite.

Marc Savlov, March 14, 2011

More Ben Wheatley
Fantastic Fest 2015: <i>High-Rise</i>
Fantastic Fest 2015: High-Rise
J.G. Ballard adaptation becomes Wheatley's first masterpiece

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 27, 2015

Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
The unreleased and the oddly evasive titles from 2013

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 5, 2014

More Ben Wheatley Films
Meg 2: The Trench
It's Jason Statham versus a giant, ancient shark again

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 11, 2023

In the Earth
Ben Wheatley's unexpected eco-horror is sinister and hilarious

Richard Whittaker, April 16, 2021

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Kill List, Ben Wheatley, Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle