Kill List * * * *

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Director: Ben Wheatley.
Screenplay: Ben Wheatley.
Starring: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodger, Ben Crompton, Robin Hill,

In 2009, Ben Wheatley made his directorial debut with crime drama “Down Terrace“. It gained him some recognition but he wasn’t overly talked about. A mere two years later, he delivered this. Like it or not, Wheatley has now captured the attention of many.

Having not worked for nearly a year, contract killer Jay (Neil Maskell) is nagged by his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) to start earning again. As a result, he takes on a new assignment with his partner Gal (Michael Smiley) to kill three successive targets that will pay lucratively. Things look simple on the surface but darker events soon begin to unravel.

As the movie opens, a white symbol scribes upon a black background. It almost resembles one of Anarchy or possibly the Occult. It could easily be ignored but it would be wise to pay heed as it may give you a better understanding of this discordant mystery. As quick as the symbol appears… it’s gone. We then delve straight into working class British drama territory; an arguing dysfunctional family, financial constraints and characters with dangerous demeanours. Credit must go to the director for his use of a rarely static camera in the opening. It adds to the complete involvement of the viewer and the contribution from his editor Robin Hill also deserves mention. The clever editing techniques add to an ever growing intensity as we become embroiled in bigger and more deadly affairs.
In gritty urban drama’s there are normally tortured or struggling souls but rarely is a deeper moral scale explored from the perspective of the everyday man. The lead character of Jay loves his family but he also happens to be a hired killer. Him and his friend Gal are painted as being human with in-human actions and they even see their murders as justifiable. They don’t conform to society as a whole and as we observe their “Kill List“, white captions appear on-screen informing us of who the intended victims are – “The Priest“, “The Librarian” and “The M.P.” Do these ‘hits’ reflect or allude to their eradication of religion, academia and politics from society? Their anarchistic behaviour alluding to the film’s opening symbol? That’s only part of the ambiguity involved here. Some actions from the key characters are unexplained, not to mention the unravelling of the film. There is an extreme shift in genre. It discards it’s dramatic approach completely and heads full-on into horror territory as it explores the possibility of inner demons and evil at work – this time, the allusion of the symbol being related to the occult. This in turn throughs up questions as to the stability of the protagonists mental health. The shift in tone is uneasy and it’s audacity throws you off but it’s nonetheless intriguing.
Whether there is a message involved or not, it will no doubt confound and provoke debate. That, in my eyes, is always a good thing and at the very least, there’s no denying this type of unconventional filmmaking is admirable and well delivered.
Director Ben Wheatley could very well have a big future ahead if this is anything to go by. The same could be said of the leads in Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley; they show a good camaraderie together and deliver realistic and powerful performances.

Be aware that the ending of this film travels far down the road of ambiguity. Don’t expect it to make complete sense but what you can expect, is for it to deliver visceral, unsettling and thought provoking material.

Mark Walker

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44 Responses to “Kill List * * * *”

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this one.

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  2. Another great review Mark. The film had great staying power, in that I was still thinking about it days later. A film that provokes a reaction is always a good thing.

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    • Thanks John. Yeah, I actually watched this last week but couldn’t get my head around it. I think I was going off on tangents writing about it. In the end I settled with this review. I had to omit loads of stuff. It’s a powerful film.

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  3. Good review, Mark. This was an absolute humdinger. I saw this right back at the start of the year and it’s still in my head. I think I heard Wheatley had a new film at Cannes this week…

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    • Cheers Ryan. It was a right kick in the nuts wasn’t it? I’d be very eager to see Wheatley’s next effort. I considered rating this higher but decided on 4 stars as I’m still not sure about the ending.

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  4. Is this out on dvd yet? I might give it a watch though I hope it’s not overly violent. β€œDown Terraceβ€œ actually premiered at our local Twin Cities Film Festival 2 yrs ago but I missed it, glad the director’s career is going well.

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    • I’m from Scotland Ruth, so it’s on DVD here. I’m not sure if it’s released in America yet. As you are not too keen on violence though, I’d be aware as is does get very dark and there are quite a few violent scenes. It’s worth seeing but I’d be prepared.

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      • Good to know Mark, I’ll brace myself if I do get to see it. Oooh you’re from Scotland eh? Which part? You probably know I have a weakness for Scots, my #1 crush is from there πŸ™‚

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      • I’m from the west coast – Glasgow. The same as James McAvoy, Robert Carlyle, Peter Mullan and Gerard Bultler was raised in Paisley (which is just outside) he’s originally from Glasgow. I’m guessing your talking about Butler or McAvoy going by the fictional film poster you have? πŸ˜‰

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  5. No US release on DVD yet but from what I’ve read I’m excited for it to finally come out here. Excellent review!

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  6. Great review mark, glad you got to watch it and liked it. Good commentary on some of the films meanings, well played sir!

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    • I think I may have went off on a tangent with the meanings. I’m not entirely convinced what it was saying but i couldn’t stop thinking about it. My original review was massive so I tried to condense it and eventually thought “fuck it”. This review will do πŸ˜‰

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      • ha, yeh, you don’t want to turn into a rambler like me!
        i definitely stays with you, doesn’t it?

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      • I thought your review was excellent. I must go back and read it now that I’ve seen it. I didn’t want to look at it again before seeing the film. Sometimes you can be subconsciously influenced.

        It doesn’t half stay with you. I’d like to sit down with it again sometime. By the way, I see your now part of the Culture Bomb. Same here. I noticed your review going up.

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      • yes, I was looking on reader a few weeks ago and seen they wanted writers. I thought your kill list review was superb, I would like to get as concise as you in my writing, trying to do so by limiting my word count but man its hard.
        is Innkeepers out yet? i thought it was in the cinema this week, really want to read your review but don’t want to spoil anything as you say you can be subconsciously influenced.

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      • I only joined culture bomb myself about a week or so before you. Nice to know we’re working together πŸ˜‰

        Yeah, my original review of Kill List was very long winded but I try to keep things concise as people can tend to lose interest in long reviews. I edited it right down but still wish I elaborated more. Thanks though, I’m going to pop back into yours now and have another read.

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      • Yep, I get that Iam not sure how many people would truly read right through on many of my reviews if they’re too long, so I gotta get tighter if i want an audience. some of my early reviews are far too long on reflection. I am happy with my ‘top ten’ reviews as i really wanted to go all out, not sure i can ever do justice to my all time favourites in any less than 700 words. It is nice knowing were working together, I find we have similar thoughts and tastes, I don’t think we’re mugs when it comes to movies dude!

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      • I don’t think we’re movie mugs at all either man and we do seem to share similar tastes. I really enjoy your in-depth reviews. Everyone has their own style. I don’t think you really have to change anything.

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      • read it. it is spoiler free, well played. Very concise again, you didn’t seem too enamoured by this one Mark, I will give it a go to see if we agree on the same rating once more.

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      • It wasn’t a bad film but it could have been tighter. For the majority of the way through it, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it but faults started to creep in. My original rating was higher but dropped once it was all over.

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      • thanks man – I wont go changing then ha ha!

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      • Don’t go changing bro. Have confidence in your abilities. πŸ™‚

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  7. such an overrated movie, i usually fall for these horror/thrillers like the wonderful Wicker Man (original version) but this one was poor – BUT as always a fab review πŸ™‚

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    • I can see why some wouldn’t take to it and I’m still wondering if the ending was just a complete load of tosh. However, I still couldn’t stop thinking about when it was over. That’s got to count for something. Thanks though, I still don’t think I captured entirely what I wanted to say in my review.

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  8. Nice review Mark! I saw this one a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. I wrote up a little article on our blog explaining my thoughts on what I just saw. Check it out if you have a chance. http://3guys1movie.com/?p=3538 It does contain spoilers so make sure you saw the film first.

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  9. Glasgow, how awesome!! My #1 crush for the last 7 years is Gerry Butler [Americans can’t properly say ‘Gerard’ so he’d rather just be called Gerry here] He has a law degree from Glasgow University, believe it or not. I do like all the actors you mentioned. Man I’ve always wanted to visit your neck of the woods, especially the Highlands which I heard is just spectacular!

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    • That’s right, I remember hearing he studied law before acting. One of the first film’s I seen him in was “Dear Frankie”, a great little scottish film. If you haven’t seen it Ruth, you should check it out. I think you might like it. And as you say, the Highlands are also to be seen. Spectacular! I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

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      • Oh I ADORE Dear Frankie. It’s one of my favorite roles of his. I like Emily Mortimer, too. People always associate him w/ being an action hero or whatever, but he’s done some understated work that went under the radar. I also love him in The Jury BBC miniseries. Have you seen One More Kiss? It’s filmed in Scotland I believe, with Valerie Edmond and James Cosmo (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0229625/) It’s one of his earlier roles which I love. Man I can talk about Gerry for days, ahah. Btw, I always thought he and McAvoy could be brothers, GB looked just like him in his younger days, only much taller.

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      • I totally agree. Butler has unfortunately taken on some roles of late that haven’t done his reputation any good. In some ways he has been labeled like Matthew McConaughey yet they both can offer something different. Dear Frankie is a marvellous little film but I haven’t seen one more kiss. I’ll most certainly check that one out. I normally don’t miss Scottish film’s but there are several little gems that manage to sneak under the radar. It’s always nice to hear that they reach a wider audience also. Nice one Ruth.

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  10. Great review. The plot sounds fascinating.

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  11. Paragraph Film Reviews Says:

    Recently watched this and was blown away.
    Biggest winner for me was the soundtrack – sometimes over the muted in-picture sound. It just shook my cage like nothing else before it. Had to remember to breathe, and that it was only a film – it was very surreal.
    Only bit I didn’t like was in the tunnels / masked idiots jumping and shreiking out of nowhere… kind of killed the believability for me (until then it was stone cold).
    Totally agree on Mr Wheatley’s career – this film’s handled as if it were by a master.

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    • I’m still not totally sold on the ending either. I’ll have a reassessment with a second viewing but it did seem as it came right out of nowhere. A bit too surreal on that front. Totally convincing movie otherwise though. Wheatley is definitely one for the watching. Thanks for stopping by man.

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  12. I’m not as sold on this as you are, as you know after reading my review. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention… too easily distracted watching films at home. I didn’t even think of the scratching thing in the beginning. Oh well. Horror was never my favorite genre anyway.

    Loved your post about it though, you’re selling it well. πŸ™‚

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    • I don’t really know is the symbol is massively important but at least once during the film, another character scribes it on the back of a mirror. I took it from the point of view of Anarchy but the ending would imply the Occult. I think there was more to this film, than I completely understood. Either that, or it was a complete load of nonsense and I read too much into things. πŸ˜‰

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  13. Excellent work here!

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    • Thanks again man. You are certainly trudging through the index right enough. πŸ™‚

      This was a hard film to write about though. I don’t know if I fully captured it but I was really just brainstorming ideas.

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  14. Great review, I watched this film not so long ago and I’m still trying to figure bits of it out. I think it’s a sign of a well made film if it makes you think after it’s finished.

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  15. […] of director’s and it’s beginning to look like he wants to try his hand at many genres. Kill List was heady mix of kitchen-sink drama and horror, Sightseers was a black comedy, High Rise was a […]

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