Kill List is… what is Kill List? That’s actually not a bad question. Part hitman movie, part family drama and part horror, Kill List is the bastard lovechild of director Ben Wheatley. As the film follows Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) it becomes less and less clear where the film is headed, but Kill List is at its finest when it is keeping its audience guessing.
While it is thoroughly unclear what genre Kill List falls into, it is its resistance to definition that gives the film a sort of untamed charm. This is certainly aided by standout performances from its cast, particularly Maskell as he deftly juggles his role as a broken family man and a savage killer. There are so many things to love about this twisted little film, but having expectations of horror and being treated to a surprisingly complex character study is part of what makes Kill List such a welcome addition to the horror genre. Jay’s transformation throughout the movie is the heart and soul of Kill List, but this evolution would be nothing without the supporting cast of the film.
Gal is the one who shares the most screen time with Jay and after seeing Maskell and Smiley’s chemistry, it’s no surprise as to why. Their relationship is far from perfect. In fact, it is perhaps one of the most dysfunctional relationships ever committed to film, as the film cuts between the two bludgeoning each other on the kitchen floor to sharing a drink and laughing afterwards. Wheatley doesn’t do much to make sense of this relationship, but their shared history and unspoken past is a nice change from the modern tendency to over-explain. At times, it feels like Kill List is a deeply dysfunctional buddy movie in the same vein as the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on-the-road movies, but with a higher body count.
Still, the most interesting dynamic of the film, for me at least, was the moments between Jay and his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring). The film begins with the two of them shouting at one another, even escalating to physical violence. Yet, as Jay becomes more and more engrossed in his work, leading to violent outbursts, she cries for her husband. It is clear that the two love one another, or at least they did. Buring skillfully plays overbearing wife and devoted mother, but unfortunately, the film does not spend enough time with her to get a real sense of what the character of Shel is all about. Instead, Kill List left me wanting more.
That’s what Kill List does best. It starts out slow, asking questions and withholding answers, until the end of the film where we have been given pieces of the puzzle, but none of them seem to fit. What is Kill List ultimately about? I honestly could not tell you. Wheatley rolls the end credits before any definitive sense of resolution or closure. However, I can tell you that it will be a long time before I can think of anything else. Not only the unanswered questions, but the shocking brutality and the senseless violence of the film all add to its ambiguous, yet deeply satisfying conclusion. Not everyone will enjoy the somewhat abrupt end of the film, but with his ending, Wheatley unnerved me in a way I forgot was possible.
Kill List will be released on DVD and blu-ray on August 14. The blu-ray features several interviews with cast and crew, the trailer for the film, and an audio commentary with director Ben Wheatley and actress Emma Fryer.