Brutal in its violence and humanity, the U.K’s Kill List finally has some form of proper release stateside. The much ballyhooed Ben Wheatley picture has garnered numerous plaudits, disclaimers and negativity since its debut on the festival circuit last year.
Kill List is about one easily angered man named Jay (Neil Maskell). Who he is, what he does and how he feels about it are slowly unspooled by Wheatley. We learn that Jay is married to Shel (MyAnna Buring) and the two share an old relationship with Gal (Michael Smiley), who has brought his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) over to dinner. There is talk of a job offer, a vitriolic argument between husband and wife, plus something a little peculiar. Amidst all of the shouting – and eventual reconciliation – Fiona takes a trip to the home’s bathroom. She takes a mirror down, twists it around and carves a vaguely runic symbol on the back.
What this means and how it plays out are two of the many mysteries Wheatley plays close to the vest in his terrific film. Eventually we discover that Jay and Gal are old military buddies who share some tragic history together. Since leaving the barracks, they’ve turned to the unsavory world of hired killing to make ends meet. They take a job and the horror begins, even if you don’t notice it at first. The pair’s victims are acting rather strange for people about to be blown to bits.
All will be revealed. You just have to dig a little. Where most films telling a similar story would lean on obvious foreshadowing and blathering exposition, Kill List instead leaves cookie crumbs to follow into Wheatley’s haunting vision. We are the proverbial Hansel and Gretel here. Wheatley has crafted a disturbing work, ruthless in its presentation without teetering into schlock or mere shock tactics. There are a handful of utterly gut wrenching moments within the movie. Every single one reveals something about the nature of the beasts within the picture’s characters.
Yet, Wheatley knows what to hide, and not simply in regard to the plotting. One of Jay and Gal’s proposed kills has committed an act so heinous nary a person can stomach it. Wheatley chooses to show the reactions to the act and nothing else.
As Kill List evolves from kitchen-sink drama to madhouse horror, not a single beat goes wrong. The movie is anchored by Wheatley’s development of Jay, wonderfully played by Maskell. He’s a conflicted individual, drawn back into a life he would prefer to forget. Jay’s relationship with both Gal and Shel are complicated and prone to physicality. The film’s anxiety only properly takes root because of the depth those running around in the story achieve. Part David Cronenberg, part Neil Marshall, Wheatley is now on the map and one can’t help but be excited about what he’s got in store next.
Kill List is avaibale On Demand now and is tentatively scheduled to open in Seattle Feb. 3.