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Kill List

Kill List

What's the world coming to when even hardened killers aren't safe
in the English countryside?

dir: Ben Wheatley

Pretty nasty. Pretty goddamn nasty. Ugly and goddamn nasty would perhaps be most apt.

Trust the Brits to make a flick about work-a-day hitmen that’s probably closer to the reality of what such monsters must look like. None of this aestheticisation of murder crap for them, no.

Oh, fuck the ethical / moral arguments about it; they’re not worth having, they can’t be had because no-one’s arguing the contrary. What I’m saying is, considering the sheer abundance of films with characters who are hitmen, in reality, such professionals are probably more like the chaps here than, oh, let’s say George Clooney in The American.

I’m not just talking looks-wise here. Although I am. Bless the Brits for doing something to ensure unattractive people get to make a living. No, I mean it just feels more credible to have two chaps like the ones here, Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) doing what they’re doing, rather than two rarefied, classical-music-listening, Faberge-egg-collecting pretty-boy buff chaps, which would be the norm if you believed a lot of movies with the subject.

Nah. Working class chaps all the way, ex-Army, who don’t mind getting their hands bloody in order to pay the mortgage and keep their scrag wives in the luxury (of jacuzzis and Katie Price designer hand bags) they’ve become accustomed to. A job, a grinding trade-like job. One where you’d think they could wack on some overalls, get their lunchbox and a thermos of tea, and wander off after kissing the wife and ruffling the hair of their kid, to a full day of brutal murder.

With a name like Kill List, presumably people aren’t expecting My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic! Despite Jay’s reluctance, he eventually agrees, after a dinner party with Gal and his girlfriend, to work on another project. Various characters make regular allusions to Jay’s last job, which apparently didn’t go very well. Kiev, they say, everything went wrong in Kiev. Everything always goes wrong in Kiev.

Jay is, even before the topic of assassination comes up, a very tightly wound guy. He and his wife are getting into screaming matches about the slightest thing. As a contrast to many of these kinds of flicks, if you look at it like the average crime flick, where a guy is dragged back and forced to commit One Last Job, it’s usually the wife character who whines and complains about the chap agreeing to get into the shit again. Here, his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) is the one goading him into killing again.

Talk about a supportive family. It would be crass, and simplistic to imply that Jay is probably a product of war time experiences, because his problem, despite his profession, is his boundless, Hulk-like rage.

You’d think it would be an advantage to someone who butchers people for a crust, but it makes him somewhat undependable and unreliable. Gal does the same job, after all, they’re partners, but doesn’t lose himself in the violence the way Jay does.

Doesn’t make for clean kills. Doesn’t make for clean getaways.

But that’s the least of their troubles now. When they’re given the list, the Kill List, they are informed of the people, Listed, who they now have to Kill. Even stranger, when the client meets with them to deliver the list in question, he expresses both an appreciation for Jay’s previous work and a love of signing contracts in blood.

That’s a bit odd, isn’t it?

The first one’s innocuous enough, being The Priest. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to kill a priest at least twice in their life? They approach the task and the target with weary professionalism. With the target in their sights, when they make their presence known, you’d think such a man of the cloth would freak out, would beg mercy so as to tend further to his flock, would ask them to consider the state of their immortal souls upon committing such a mortal sin.

Instead, he smiles and says “Thank you.”

As if the flick wasn’t creepy enough before. This sounds like a crime flick, but it’s clearly a horror flick instead, veering as it does in its latter stages into something very different from the kitchen-sink violent crime caper it so clearly pretends to be. In case we didn’t realise from the increasingly more horrific killings, something else, something much more else is going on, and Jay and Gal might have to do something than just kill more people in order to get out with their pink bits intact.

It’s well directed, well put together. There’s this very unsettling use of an underlying sound which makes even the most innocuous scenes seem ominous, interspersed with a beautiful string score which seems to be mocking the goings-on. It felt horrible to feel like I was getting into the heads of these bad, bad men, but gradually, as the ‘mystery’ of what’s going on ramps up, I’m sorry to say, my appreciation for the construction diminished.

Any episode of Scooby Doo, if it ever worked, worked not because of the reveal at the end, of a crotchety old man muttering “and I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids”, but because what happened leading up to it. This film, which disappointed me with its ending, entirely falls apart at the end. Horribly and irredeemably. The seeds for the reveal, if you can call that stupid ending a ‘reveal’, are planted early on, so I’m not blaming it for coming out of nowhere.

I blame them for hating the way the ending ends. It’s pretty shitty, but I’m not going to spoil it just in case of the unlikely event that someone reads this review and thinks this is worth watching. Who that could be I cannot imagine. Maybe a closet gorehound reads my reviews hoping for some hot splattery action.

It’s unlikely, but possible. As far as horror’s concerned, this is fairly horrible, but more so before the story derails out of control. The ending even seems like it was badly edited, as if there wasn’t a clear idea how to end it, and they were just sick of making it.

Don’t get me wrong, by saying the earlier bits ‘work’ doesn’t mean this is anything less than a queasy, disturbing experience. The work put in by the actors especially, the grunting ‘realism’ of it, renders the story a cut above the average horror flick. It’s not because we care about the characters: they’re fairly despicable. But they do seem like real people (the main characters at least), and that’s half the battle.

That’s not to say that the ending is anything less than monstrously brutal. The problem is that the flick has to cheat in order to deliver that ending. It takes people we’ve seen doing particularly stupid things in order to get them in the position they need to be for such a stupid setup to ‘work’.

And it doesn’t work. Okay, maybe it ‘works’, as in, what happens happens and then the flick ends, so I can’t fault that it had an ending, an ending that was meant to be gutting and powerfully confronting.

It has an ending, just not a worthy one. Jay is a lot of things, unstable and profoundly unable to anger his management, I mean, manage his angerment, but the ending betrays him and the audience. Worst of all, it thinks it’s clever.

It’s not clever, it’s just silly. It's still unsettling, though, how could it not be?

Avoid unless you just plain desperately need to watch actors in Brummie accents killing people with hammers and such.

6 times nothing is ever enhanced by the presence of druids out of 10

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“She left a ‘Dear John’ letter taped to me cock.” – when a text message just won’t do – Kill List

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