Friday, 22 June 2012

filmbore pick of the week - Kill List

Kill List Ben Wheatley 
Screenplay: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Starring: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring
Year: 2011
Language: English
UK rental release: December 2011

Rotten Tomatoes

British drama is synonymous across the globe as a sterling foundation of grounded acting and straight storytelling, but sometimes a little gem reveals itself amongst our little island's standard crop that challenges this ideal and our own moral fibre. Last year, that film was Ben Wheatley's Kill List - an ever evolving, tour-de-force of a movie, that still splits audiences to this day through the daring thematic spine that its story carries.

Neil Maskell (The Football Factory) plays Jay, a simmering hitman, evidently with some kind of burden yet to be discovered. His home life, though fiery, is as normal as it gets. Nevertheless, his explosive nature can get the better of him, as seen early on in a wonderful, naturally played dinner scene with his wife, Shel (a great performance from MyAnna Buring) and their guests. The man across the table  is Gal (Michael Smiley - fondly remembered as Tyres from the genius brit-com series Spaced) his literal partner-in-crime; a calm, voice of reason that, as their relationship shows, seems to exist purely to temper our lead.
The morphing chemistry between these two characters, from jovial, through volatile, to brotherly is a fundamental dynamic, creating a template to allow other elements of the tale to breathe comfortably. This includes the relationship between Jay, Shel and their son, Sam (Harry Simpson) which is intermittently tested while he is out at "work".  

It's this tension that both fuels and challenges Jay, assisting in the exposure and breakdown of his emotional barriers and,  throughout the film's main act, we see his layers unfold as the pair are hired to eliminate certain bureaucratic players from their kill list. Each target is segregated into chapters; a beautiful structure that is welcomed when dealing with the more drastic elements of the picture. The "hits" themselves are visceral and gory - a thankful release while you wrestle with each target's taboo habits...

WARNING! This film is not for the faint-hearted. Each reveal of the kill list's victim's motives highlights their depravity, allowing you to feel hatred towards these vile creatures, as you bear witness to their making through our leading pair...

For some it may be an exhausting watch, but this is only cements the outstanding ability of Ben Wheatley as a storyteller. You find yourself enveloped by the film to the extent where you feel like the third hitman that was never there. This sense of involvement is handed to you by some intimate camera work, slowly working around some events like a point-of-view, while never afraid of capturing close-ups through some of the more intense scenes. 

Also well managed are the more mysterious moments, scattered throughout the movie as cult-like activities and comments dressed in riddle. Morsels of twists are presented to you, as the intrigue builds. It's when you embark on the journey provided by these peculiar touch points that you see more in this film than just a family drama...a crime story...a buddy film. There is a throbbing dark core that is gradually rearing it's head to our final kill list chapter, which shocks most of all. The climax will stay with you for some time, as you ponder over your feelings towards the context of the underlying plot. But there is no doubting the bravery of our director, and I for one am glad that he has stuck so sharply to his overall vision. This is a truly unique film that will be loved by some, be disturbing to others, but at the end deserves wider exposure as a genuine article of original storytelling.

In my opinion, the film wouldn't hold together if it wasn't for a career best performance from Neil Maskell. After years of being in smaller roles, it's satisfying to see him in a strong lead, which he handles with extreme sincerity and honesty. There's a calm wildness to his character, which is vital to the overall story, and it's this performance which gives Kill List it's heart...albeit a dark one!


  1. Well you've certainly whetted my appetite - I'm going to check this out. Cheers!

  2. One of the best i watched last year, it certainly is a dark one! Got this and another small indy brit flick called "Down Terrace" which was the best british gangster film i think i have ever seen. I would well recommend it!

  3. Down Terrace looks fantastic. Same director as Kill List, Ben Wheatley. I'll make sure it's on my To Watch list with the other suggestions I've had on this site. :)