Kill List

Director: Ben Wheatley

Notable Cast: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring

Rating: R

Review: Um, so, that just happened.  I’m not sure why, or how, but it happened.  I think I liked it?  Yeah, there’s still some definite mulling over of Ben Wheatley’s assassin thriller Kill List going on in my brain.  Everything important happened so quick, including the dialogue, it’s hard to catch all the deviations in Wheatley and Amy Jumps’ deceptive screenplay on the first go around.  You start with a struggling ex-gun for hire who is desperate for cash, but end on a different planet entirely via…well…the twist was the fun of Kill List, so I can’t in good faith let it be revealed.  Just know it’s worth the wait, as you sit there befuddled by the hints and tips alerting you not everything in the film may be what it seems at face value.

Months after a botched mercenary job in Kiev, Jay (Maskell) is struggling to keep his marriage afloat and finances stable.  Working a legitimate sales job, Jay is still reeling from his time as a hired gun.  But desperate for cash, Jay is willing to hear any plan out. His old partner and friend Gal (Smiley) informs him of a well-paying job the two could split, seemingly with no hitches.  A kill list consists of 3 people who the client wants eliminated, however Jay and Gal would want to get it done.  All seems under control, until the targets start acting uncharacteristic for people about to be executed and strange signs start popping up in the hitmen’s lives.  What started as just a job turns into a frenzied investigation into what exactly the two men are being paid to do, whether they want to discover the client’s true motives or not.

You know something is amiss when your victim says “Thank You” for pointing a silenced weapon at his face…

It’s nice to see all these slow-burn films coming out of the woodwork lately.  For a while, horror was failing into the typical mold of “create a slasher film atmosphere, put some kids in a secluded location, and axe them off one by one.”  Don’t get me wrong, some of these movies are an absolute blast, but these more old-school built up films sometimes offer a greater reward in the form of climax where the only offerings of the much simpler films are outlandish kills.  What Kill List does so well is start out with a mundane story that could have been the plot to any family drama, and slowly built towards the breaking point where sh#t hits the proverbial horror fan.  Why is this clever?  Because we know Kill List isn’t going to be about a fighting couple or struggling family the whole time, these were just a means to reach the end.  So, we sit patiently, collecting prints like an episode of “Blues Clues,” assembling in our minds where the hell Wheatley was taking us.  The Innkeepers recently tried to accomplish this feat, but Kill List built up a back story and at least gave heed to what might follow, and created a curiosity that needed to be fed.  For a while, the clues didn’t add up, but were so obviously meaningful again we had no choice but to amp our curiosity factor.  The script paced these moments out perfectly so just as we would start to get lost in the long build, another instance would peak our interest and put our wheels in motion again.  Kill List plays with the viewers mind just enough to keep them entranced, while also introducing characters and plot lines central to our end.  Without the meat and potatoes, our dessert would never seem so sweet!

All is lost without the proper finale though, but Kill List spirals out of control with such an explosive manner my mouth was left agape.  From the build up you expect an attention grabbing ending, but nothing prepares you for how dark and hypnotic Kill List actually gets.  And the thing is, Wheatley still leaves questions as the credits role.  Notions go unanswered and details still go unexplained, yet since we’re still coasting from the mind-f*ck of an ending, everything makes sense in its own crazy mixed up way.  We may not know exactly what a symbol means or why certain characters appear where, but with how it ended, screw it, why not?  Wheatley’s ending ends up saving Kill List from utter boredom, where other films like The Innkeepers (I hate to pick on Ti West so much, but I just watched it!) squander the once and a lifetime chance to floor their viewers.  I want to blab on right now about how Kill List introduces that first moment of “so that’s where the story is headed!” and follows it up with scene after scene of “holy tits this is still going on, and the end hasn’t even come yet!”  Wheatley’s ending kills the competition, putting other story-driven horrors to shame.  Again, you’re going to have to trust me, but this is one bloody-good climax even Ron Jeremy could be proud of…(get it, because he’s a porn star?  Eh, f#ck you, I’ve been drinking.  It’s funny to me.)

So, to recap, Kill List takes some effort to buckle into, but you’ll be glad you did.  Each uncovered incident gets you closer to the end, amassing more and more drama as the film goes on.  For a flick about hitmen, don’t expect shoot out after shoot out, but instead appreciate the plot-driven scenes that attempt to succeed on well-written story telling.  Again, this isn’t a film for the masses, as horror fans brainwashed by the Saw series will be craving gratuitous violence and flying limbs to satisfy their lust for death.  To them I say “stfu” and “gtfo,” (Google that sh*t if you don’t know simple internet lingo) for they would ruin a film meant to please the much more patient and intelligent.  Sit there, shut up, and take in the atmosphere Wheatley sets for Kill List.  The last 20 minutes may be some of the best horror you see all year, and it’s only January.  Bold predictions from a ballsy guy.

Final Rating: 8 foam sword battles out of 10

Yes, this is a screen shot from Kill List…ARE YOU F$CKING INTRIGUED YET?!


About Matt Donato

Co-Founder of the Certified Forgotten Universe. Editor, Podcaster, Writer, and pretty rad dude. Don't feed him after midnight, but beers are encouraged. Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd: @DoNatoBomb.
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