Kill List * * * *
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.