Tuesday 3 January 2012


Coming at you like a brutal hammer attack to the skull, Kill List is now out on Blu-ray and DVD. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

When hired killers Jay and Gal (Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley) take on a new job from a new employer, things start to take some unexpected turns as they discover that someone is watching them and their families. Can they complete the list and get out clean?

Beginning like a Mike Leigh family drama, Kill List sees the average family life of Neil Maskell's Jay, a man ill at ease with suburbia and filled with bottled up anger just waiting to overflow. A rabbit turns up dead in his garden courtesy of the family cat, and his instinct is to carve it up and eat it, much to the disgust of his wife (Myanna Buring). When a dinner party conversation turns sour he rips the cloth off the table and onto the floor. It's clear that Jay is not an easy man to live with.

Despite having seen it turn up in a number of end of year top ten lists, I still went into Kill List knowing very little about the actual story. I was aware that the film centred around the lives of two hitmen, but beyond that not a lot. I knew director Ben Wheatley's feature debut Down Terrace was a low budget spin on a cockney gangster film, so expected it could be something similar. Instead, it's a highly original look at the lives of two hired assassins, both men with demons bubbling close to the surface.

Pulp Fiction may have given us a brief glimpse at the private lives of two hitmen, but by showing us these two men warts and all, they seem a lot more human, making their actions affect us all the more. I suppose in a way it is a bit like Grosse Point Blank, only instead of John Cusack they'd cast Ray Winstone's character from Scum, complete with blunt object.

As anti-heroes they're often easy to root for. Their "victims" are invariably bad people who deserve what's coming to them. To once again refer to John Cusack's Grosse Point Blank, "If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there". That's certainly the case for the targets in Kill List, whose deeds we get to see in all their repulsiveness. However, there is an undercurrent of unwarranted violence, particularly in Jay. When a Christian guitarist starts to sing a song in the motel their staying in, Jay can't help but leave his table and confront him over the noise. Coming completely out of nowhere, it's these moments of unheralded intense rage that give Kill List real power.

Smiley's character seems much more at ease with life. Gal's taken a neutral view for what he does for a living, not getting bogged down by any morality issues, instead choosing to concern himself with a burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). Michael Smiley, previously best known to audiences as the pill-popping Tyres from Spaced, has grown from a budding stand up to a skilled actor with an incredibly intimidating presence. Gal is the happier of the two men, but there's something behind Smiley's eyes to suggest he's been in the same mental state that Jay is now.

There is more to Kill List than a simple checklist of targets, as evidenced by the curious symbol that gets carved into a secret location in Jay's house. Is it a target or some sort of code? As for what it all means, the film has to take us to a dark mysterious place before it even hints at resolving these conundrums. And that's unfortunately where the film falters somewhat. Compared to the events preceding it, the ending does seem mismatched and a rushed way of wrapping the film up. Like the Wicker Man via A Serbian Film (although replacing sex with violence), there's something purposely grotesque about it that's certainly going to leave you with questions that may never be answered.

Thanks to some nerve wrecking performances from its two male leads, Kill List is an original and reliably gritty British thriller that heralds Ben Wheatley as a director to watch out for. A cold blooded, dark and brutal experience that's not to be underestimated.


Special Features: The making of Kill List, interviews with the director and cast, trailer

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