Two hitmen walk into a church. Now that could be the set up to a terrible joke, or just a typical action scene from one of Hollywood’s many action movies, but when the priest in this film says, “Thank you” to the killer just before he takes a bullet to the brain, well that kind of clues one in to the fact that things may just be a tad more complicated than one had first supposed.
Kill List defines the term “Slow Burn” as we are first introduced to Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), a suburban couple arguing over money and Jay’s ongoing state of unemployment. Things get even a bit more uncomfortable when Gal (Michael Smiley), an old military buddy of Jay’s, and Gal’s new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) come over for a dinner party to add fuel to the fire, and as wine is consumed by the bottle the atmosphere gets a bit ugly, in a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf kind of way. Plates of food are thrown and the two friends end up wrestling on the front lawn, the whole dinner party basically going to shit, but just as you were thinking you may have popped in a Neil LaBute DVD into the player by mistake we find Jay and Gal hiding out in the garage talking about taking a job that involves killing three people. What is great here is that neither of these guys fit the Hollywood mold of movie hitmen.
I admit to knowing nothing about the “Murder For Hire” business but I’m betting professional killers look more like these two rather than the Jason Statham or Tom Cruise type we see in countless action films. You’d believe these two could walk in and out of a place after killing someone and nobody would notice them. And it’s at this point that I’m settling in to watch what could be an interesting and realistic take on how soldiers returning from war find their only means of income is still in the killing business, but then we get that scene where their first victim smiles and then hanks Jay for killing him.
And did I mention that their employer sliced open Jay’s hand so that they could sign the contract in blood? Yeah, if that isn’t a tip-off that you should maybe re-think your job prospects, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately aside from Jay and Shel’s little boy, there isn’t a morally sound person in this film. Even Shel, the pretty young wife, and doting mother knows exactly what her husband is really up to, and is completely complicit in the decision on his killing three people for money. When Jay and Gal find out their first target is a priest they wonder if maybe he’s a pedophile, but whether he is or not they still plan on killing him. A job is a job. It’s also a job that gets more brutal and disturbing to the point that Gal, after seeing Jay beat to death their second target with a hammer, wants to just take the money they have and call it a day.
I don’t want to get too much further into spoiler territory, but needless to say, their shadowy employers are not too keen on the job being left unfinished, stating that if they do not complete the “kill list” they themselves will be killed along with their entire families. Which to be fair is something you’d expect from people who use blood to seal a deal. It’s when they go after the third target that shit really gets real, and has me offering a tip to any potential killers for hire out there if you are staking out a target and you see this…
Ben Wheatley’s 2011 horror/thriller deals in the theme “Money is the root of all evil” in about the most inexplicable way imaginable as it takes the viewer on a dark and disturbing journey that dares you to keep watching, and does no hand-holding when it comes to answering the questions that the bizarreness almost demands. This is not a nicely wrapped up mystery thriller, it is a horror film with a capital H.
What makes this film work is how the well the leads play their parts, so down to earth and believable, that when the movie starts to shift tone you are completely caught off guard, and Wheatley seems to be having fun pulling the bloody rug out from under us. Think of it as kind of, “What if Stanley Kubrick directed The Wicker Man movie?” So when you sit down to watch Kill List be patient, the horror is waiting just around the corner.
Kill List (2011)
Kill List is one of those films that will linger with you long after you’ve seen it. It’s graphic but not exploitive, and the cast all give us richly interesting characters to follow if not necessarily root for.