Review: Kill List

Director(s)Ben Wheatley
Principal CastNeil Maskell as Jay
Michael Smiley as Gal
MyAnna Burning as Shel
Emma Fryer as Fiona
Release Date2011
Running Time 95 minutes

I remember one rainy day in 2013 I was scrolling through the internet looking for a horror movie to watch that would be scratch a different itch from the supernatural movies I was getting used to seeing. I happened upon a Kill List recommendation, saw it was a crime film, and expected to see a typical psychological thriller. I was not ready for the ride I was getting into. This movie is a violent, adrenaline-fueled crime movie that really pushes the genre into new places. After re-watching this movie years later, I can only say my appreciation for its creativity has gone up.

The movie follows Jay and Gal, former soliders who have started to adapt to life back at home. The former finds it incredibly difficult to re-adjust to civilian life and his inability to go out and provide for the family has caused strains in his domestic life. Thankfully for him, his friend Gal comes in with a hitmen job posting. Jay and Gal receive a series of contracts and go out on a mystery laced journey, killing different seemingly disconnected individuals.

I love how the movie approaches its protagonists’ relationship to violence. Gal is more reserved , wanting to do the work because it gives him an source of income and he’d be good at it. He doesn’t want anything more to do with the job than the job itself. On the other hand, Jay is excited for the work because he misses the feeling of being in combat and persecuting the other. The idea of finding a scumbag, of being able to execute a vision of justice by taking out problematic individuals , in an almost ritualistic fervor is what drives him. Money is just the cherry on the top of it . The juxtaposition of their drives and the way their friendship operates in light of certain revelations is interesting and additionally serves as a referendum on the way that people decide to be jury,judge, and executioner in their actions. The discussion becomes more interesting as the movie delves into the identity of the contractors and the scope of their operations. As more things become revealed, the scope of this discussion becomes more ambiguous and open to interpretation. It’s fun to talk about with friends because everyone can come away with a different meaning for why everything happens.

The movie keeps the audience on its toes in how it approaches its depictions of violence. With a name like Kill List, you know that bodies are going to hit the floor. The question is how gruesome are those moments going to be. I read that Wheatley wanted to maintain a mystery about the way violence would be incorporated which is why every instantiation of it plays differently. There are cut-aways that imply the action have happened. There are also very deliberate, maddening displays of violence that will stay in your head for a while. It’s done for the sake of developing the discourse around the themes, not just for the sake of creating a visual spectacle. It manages to be visceral for the people who like to see more gruesome things and also gives people who want to imagine the depictions of violence room to enjoy things. That multifaceted approach to the issue makes it easy to watch in bigger settings. I’ve found the movie to be a good way to convert more mainstream horror/thriller fans into more out there horror movies, so if you’ve been itching to share that arthouse movie to a buddy, try this out first.

There are certain twists in the third act that I love. I can’t talk about any of them for fear of spoiling the movie, and I urge you to watch the movie without watching any trailers about it. There are some awesome sequences that I can still vividly remember. It’s shocking and should please a lot of people. However, it feels a bit rushed and that’s in spite of certain bits of foreshadowing in earlier scenes. I would have loved if the movie had developed these later elements in with the earlier discussion of violence to create a more nuanced take.

Report Card

TLDRKill List is a innovative crime horror that pushes the genre into a cool new direction.It’s an interesting look into violence and the way we orient ourselves in relation to it. If you want to show your friends more arthouse horror movies and they’re already into thriller/psychological horror movies then this may serve a sa good transition point.
Grade A

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