The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
It's not an easy watch, but Kill List is probably the best psychological horror film since Saw.
Neil Maskell is Jay, a retired ex-soldier and hitman, who's driving his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), insane by not working and hanging around the house. The film starts with a frightning argument between the two that exhibits the kind of violence people are capable of without physicality. By the next scene, however, all is forgiven. Jay and Shel go from zero to ballistic in two point six seconds and come back to reality just as fast. The hair-trigger violence is a theme set early on.
The two lovebirds host another couple, Jay's best friend from the military, Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer). In-between more arguing and the wide-eyed creepy Fiona etching a symbol on the back of Jay and Shel's bathroom mirror, Gal reveals he has a job for Jay. The two have a chance to take on a contract of three individuals. Despite some reservation, Jay agrees.
When they meet their new client (Struan Rodger), he seizes Jay's hand and slices it, effectively sealing their contract in blood. Jay and Gal don't question the act and instead set off on their mission. As ex-soldiers, it's not in their nature to question an assignment. But, by the end of it, they wish they had.
Kill List becomes a journey into the heart of darkness for Jay who progressively becomes more unraveled and violent with each new hit. After killing a priest who thanks them before dying, Jay and Gal find the aforementioned pedophile. Jay explodes on him, torturing and maiming the man before turning his head into a canoe with a hammer. The scene is gruesome, but arguably justified considering the victim's crimes. It recalls Irreversible, Gaspar Noe's film which contains a savage beating of a rapist. Both films bring questions to mind: Are the directors hedging? Does an inexcusable crime warrant violent payback, or is the crime a convenient excuse for the filmmaker to get sadistic? In Kill List, the beating seems to be a reveal of sorts. We're seeing what Jay is capable of and how he's losing his grip on his sanity.
With Jay losing it, he and Gal set off on their final kill. I won't ruin the ending, but lets just say they run into something they, or we, never expect to see. The end will leave you shaking your head because it's so absurd. It works, in its own peculiar way, but it takes you away from everything that's preceded it.
Watching Kill List, you'll feel like you're seeing something brilliant. Perfectly paced, acted, and edited, the movie is a visceral genre mashup that combines the edge of a thriller, the violence of a gangster film, and the uneasiness of horror to create something unlike most everything else. The film is the vision of writer/director Ben Wheatley and his wife, co-writer Amy Jump. The pair have a sharp ear for dialogue, but its Wheatley's direction that really makes Kill List pulse. Scenes transition awkwardly adding to the disjointed feel of the film. But, the disorientation adds to the suspense. It breeds unpredictability, which is the movie's greatest achievement.