From director Ben Wheatley, Kill List is a low-budget British thriller-horror film that shadows two hitmen as they make their way through the titular list of targets.
Neil Maskell plays Jay, an ex-soldier recruited into the contract killing trade by his friend and former army compatriot Gal, played by Michael Smiley. The film deals with various current issues; for example, these two men have returned from their army tours frustrated and lost, without a sense of place or purpose to their mundane regular existence. Jay’s wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), berates her husband for his lack of proactivity, convincing him to do whatever necessary to bring in some more money for her and their son Sam (Harry Simpson). Not only does the film depict the chagrin anxieties of soldiers returning home, i.e. post-traumatic stress disorder, but it also looks at our current economic climate, how the recession impacts on our materialist Capitalist lives. Shel’s primary worry is that they won’t have enough cash to hire a repairman to fix the jacuzzi, which in turn creates a conflict between the couple, one that Shel comes out on top of; that this is the event that triggers Jay’s return to being a hired gunman shows us how confused their priorities really are. However, it would be incorrect to suggest that money is his primary motive to take on such a dark task: he has a repressed violent streak within him and carrying out the killings is an outlet that might help avoid a potentially marriage-ending bust up with his wife.
As the two progress through their contracts, the film continually hints at more sinister and potentially occult occurrences. In one of the opening scenes Jay and Shel host a dinner party, to which they invite Gal and a women he has recently started seeing named Fiona (Emma Fryer). On the surface Fiona seems normal, even a bit simple, but when she makes a visit to the bathroom and draws a strange sign on the back of the room’s mirror, we realise that there is more to her character than meets the eye. The film offers little explanation for this occurrence, making us fill in the blanks ourselves; a trend that continues throughout the narrative. Who are these men they are tracking down? And why have they been hired to do so? Jay and Gal ponder those questions themselves, albeit briefly. The audience is left to ponder them more.
The film’s cinematography, and in fact the majority of its production, is virtually faultless, completely disguising its budget constraints. The colour palette consists primarily of greys, with a certain darkness filtered through every shot. Sometimes this kind of approach can be oppressive and dulling, but in this case it is blended perfectly with some beautiful camerawork, making it a seamless procession of foreboding visuals. Where it falls down a little is its narrative, which stays too far on the side of ambiguous and fails to justify all the events at the denouement. Perhaps if it had been a straight up horror movie, narrative clarity could have been acceptably substituted for a few more nail-biting moments. As it stands, the film builds up through drama and social conflict, leaving the majority of the horror elements until the very end. By this point you are a little distracted from the events on screen by your brain working overtime trying to nail the exact details of the entire plot. When the curtain raises and these details are not revealed, some may feel a little dissatisfied. However, take it for what it is: a sublimely made low-budget picture that contains some genuinely scary moments, as well as a few laughs. This could be one of your movies of the summer.