Word of mouth coming out of the festival circuit on Ben Wheatley’s hit-man horror has been nothing but superb. Having been told that it was best to know as little as possible, we went in appropriately clueless and hoping to be impressed.
Jay (Neil Maskell) is a killer for hire with a wife, a son, and money trouble. Gal (Michael Smiley), his best mate and colleague, approaches him with a job. Only three hits and the money’s good. Urged on by his wife Shell (MyAnna Buring), Jay and Gal take the work. But things get unpleasant and sinister very quickly.
It’s certainly true that it’s best to know as little as possible. So, what can we tell you? Well, for a start, it’s a very well-made film with excellent performances and a pervasive sense of dread seeping into the mundane, everyday world the characters inhabit. Jay and Shel’s financial problems and constant arguing are all too believable. An early dinner party scene, in which Jay and Shel invite Gal and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) round, is both very funny and incredibly tense, which sets the mood for the whole film.
Wheatley spends a good deal of time accumulating details. From the tins of tuna Jay buys (having forgotten to get toilet roll), to the awkward flirting at a hotel reception, to the juice box Gal nervously sucks at while Jay’s at work, there’s a lot of effort spent grounding the film in our own depressing England. Characters argue about the credit crunch, Fiona defends her job in HR, and Jay’s fiercely opinionated on the war in Iraq. There’s also Jay and Gal’s friendship, seemingly built on the foundation of there being no one else who can put up with them. They drink, they argue, they have childish punch-ups, and then they patch things up. Maskell (Doghouse) and Smiley (Burke and Hare, Spaced) are pitch-perfect. They’re awful people who do horrible, violent things but the two actors have a very funny, believable chemistry that makes them entertaining, if disturbing, company. Buring (The Descent, Doomsday) also impresses as the pushed-to-breaking-point Shel.
As for the plot’s twists and turns, well, we won’t go into that, except to say that it’s obviously not as simple for Jay and Gal as just killing three people. And if you’re paying attention and are at all genre-savvy you won’t be particularly thrown by any of the developments. There are a lot of varied horror influences at work here that you’ll almost certainly spot, but to name them would be to give the game away. As we’ve said, Wheatley’s more concerned about mood, and the impressively unpleasant atmosphere of Kill List slowly drags you in, helped by an excellent soundtrack and the clipped, unsettling editing. Our only major problem with the film is the ending, which will split opinion. We were disappointed. However, some audiences will feel that it’s a fitting end to a film that’s more interested in getting under your skin than making sure everyone’s on the same page by the end credits.
Overall this is a savvy, atmospheric, nasty British thriller that wears its genre influences on its sleeve but transplants them to a horribly familiar, depression-era England. But we do have a problem with the ending.
Verdict: A little over-hyped, but this is brutally efficient and affecting horror that worms its way under the surface of the everyday.