17 September 2011
Having gone to this with the least amount of expectation despite the glowing reviews, I bow down and admit my ignorance and prejudice: this is every bit as good as it’s made out to be. Not only is this one of the best hitman films I have ever seen, it is also a cracking horror.
Jay (Neil Maskell), 8 months since his return from Iraq, is reluctant to return to his pre-war occupation, mostly because of his ailing back. His beautiful wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) thinks it’s all in his head and frequently reminds him that they are running out of money. They fight constantly, but theirs is not a relationship to be rocked by a global financial crisis. Not only held together by their devotion to their young son, they are well and truly in love with each other. But times are tough and Jay needs to take care of his family. Enter Gal (Michael Smiley), Jay’s comrade-in-arms and best friend. After a double date dinner night at Jay and Shel’s home (and a rather nasty argument between the hosts), Gal convinces Jay to join him for a “job”.
While Shel and Gal’s date Fiona are washing up, Jay shows Gal the hi-tech sniper rifle hidden in his garage. It is that kind of a job. At first Shel’s knowledge of the nature of this job is unclear, but soon it is revealed that she is well aware of what the two best friends are up to. When Jay and Gal visit “the client” at a hotel, they sign a contract in Jay’s blood. They are given a kill list of seemingly unrelated people around Britain. As they go through the list, Jay’s violent side takes over and the pair are losing their cool.
Jay and Gal are mercenaries, but they are convinced that they are doing this for the greater good. Gal, a devout Catholic, is a little nervous about killing their first victim (a priest), but he carries out the cold-blooded murders with great ease. Jay, meanwhile, gets increasingly violent. His ‘soft’ side is shown when they discover that their second victim is a librarian who ‘curates’ snuff films. Jay goes medieval on his ass. The scene when he handles the librarian is hands-down the most violent scene I have seen since the fire-extinguisher to the head scene in Irreversible.
It is at this point that we need to talk about Fiona (Emma Fryer). She carves a symbol behind Jay and Shel’s bathroom mirror. She appears to Jay in the middle of the night, on a field outside Jay’s hotel room, waving at him. Who is she? And why is everything scarier than they should be?
Jim Williams’ unnerving music and Robin Hill’s dizzying editing doesn’t help explaining anything either. Something is brewing, but it’s not revealed until the bizarre but terrifying finale (a cult British horror film has rightly been named as a reference here by many, but I won’t. Because if I do, you would know what to expect). I was at the edge of my seat, eating my fingernails, heart pumping out of my chest … this is what I call entertainment.
Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley’s script is full of little gems that those with a keen eye will pick. Jump and Wheatley bombard us with images and lines of dialogue that you know will come back with a vengeance. They do in the most satisfying way. Kill List is an incredibly assured film, told with great panache. It is destined to be a cult favourite. Shame, because it deserves much more than that.