movie film review | chris tookey

Kill List

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  Kill List Review
Tookey's Rating
4 /10
Average Rating
7.92 /10
Neil Maskell, MyAnna Burling, Harry Simpson
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Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump

Released: 2011
Origin: UK/ Ireland/ Australia/ New Zealand
Length: 96

Not on a par with Schindler’s.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Kill List is a frustrating mixture of promising and atrocious. I approached it with high hopes, as this low-budget British horror film has been winning 5-star reviews, but I ended up baffled and irritated by its defects.

It starts out as a naturalistic thriller, with tough ex-soldier-turned-assassin Jay (Neil Maskell) taking on one last series of “hits” with best buddy Gal (Michael Smiley). Jay hopes this will save his shouty marriage to Shel (MyAnna Buring), foundering on a lack of cash after eight months of unemployment. Jay’s young son Sam (Harry Simpson) attempts to make sense of why his parents argue all the time, while socially aware members of the audience try to work out why his accent is far posher than both his parents.

There are good ideas early on, and spicy dialogue, notably when Jay finds his wife has maxed out his credit card, thus attracting attention just when he is supposed to be checking into a hotel as inconspicuously as possible, and when happy-clappy Christians annoy him and his hit-man chum in a restaurant.

Director Ben Wheatley and his co-writer wife Amy Jump builds up a fine sense of menace. Gal’s spooky girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), carves a hieroglyph and hides it in Jay’s house. The client insists on a bizarre blood ritual and knows of some previous hit in Kiev that went badly wrong. The local GP behaves oddly when Jay shows him a wounded hand, and starts spouting platitudes you might expect to come from a dodgy astrologer. Both the first two victims on the kill list - a priest preaching only to old people and a librarian with a collection of violent pornography - mysteriously thank Jay before he kills them.

All this is intriguing, and Wheatley manages the film’s descent into expressionistic nightmare quite well, stylistically. Jay’s killing methods become alarmingly unprofessional as he starts to depart from the kill list and go on some kind of moralistic crusade, He inflicts lethal retribution on “bad people” who “deserve to suffer”. About the only cliched thing that happens is that Jay’s family cat is murdered by persons, and for reasons, unknown.

Unfortunately, virtually every question raised in the audience’s mind by all those events is left unanswered. The final half-hour descends into sub-Wicker Man hocus-pocus and is unfortunately similar to the climax of a better-organised horror film from earlier in the year, Wake Wood.

I left feeling cheated. I discussed the plot with several equally bewildered critics afterwards, and none of us could come up with an explanation for far too many events in the film. Crucial scenes are missing.

Wheatley’s previous film, Down Terrace - about a gangster family living in a Brighton terrace – was similarly broken-backed, in that it began naturalistically but descended into implausible Grand Guignol. Kill List is even less coherent and takes itself much too seriously, with portentous but unresolved references to religious faith and Arthurian legend. Be warned, too, that some of the violence - including a hammer attack on someone’s head – is repulsive.

I think I can guess the film-makers’ intentions. It is to compare the callous cuts carried out during a recession with the “hits” of a professional assassin. But that’s only one possible interpretation, and there may well be others. Nor does it really answer all those unanswered questions.

After that intriguing first hour, the piece becomes annoyingly contrived and lazily abstruse, just at the point when any decent thriller script would deliver on its directorial promise. The result is the most critically overrated, pseudo-intellectual film I’ve seen in 2011. There is a thin line between intelligent ambiguity and unintelligible pretentiousness, and these film-makers seem to have snorted it.

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