There hasn’t been too much to get excited about in terms of quality low-key cinema this summer, and Kill List, marketed as a ‘hitman horror’, doesn’t seem to be anything special. Surprisingly however, Kill List is in fact one of the most refreshing films of recent times.
Kill List is set in modern-day Sheffield where a young married couple, Jay and Shel, are feeling the pressures of the recession. Right from the start, the film jumps deftly between being a domestic drama (interlaced with a slightly over-used horror soundtrack) and a comically observed portrait of British social interactions. Even as the film descends towards its dark conclusion, the honest, witty dialogue will have you laughing; that’s when you’re not squirming at the painfully realistic on-screen violence.
Before long, cash-strapped Jay gets convinced by his best friend Gal to get back into the business of contract killing, with the titular kill list containing three people on it. Each successive killing is given the sense of being a separate chapter courtesy of a clinical white font on a black background reminding us who is next on the list. With each killing, the plot gets increasingly convoluted and sinister, building towards a chilling climax that echoes the classic British horror The Wicker Man, albeit adapted for this recession-hit era. While the subsequent bloodbath breaks the spell a bit, the sheer what-the-fuck-ness of the final chapter is sublime horror cinema that will have you gripped.
The performances of Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley are spot-on, evoking a brotherly love between the two hitmen, but also a vulnerability and desperation in the face of circumstances that are increasingly beyond their control. As a result, MyAnna Buring as Jay’s wife gets slightly sidelined by this man-love dynamic, but she holds her own, undeniably supplemented by the fact that she’s drop-dead gorgeous.
Relative newcomer Ben Wheatley does a great job as director and writer of Kill List. Despite its dark trajectory which sees the film get increasingly bone-crunching and brutal, this is combined with a sardonic humour that remains sharp throughout. Maybe he overdid it on the clichéd contemporary horror soundtrack of ominous whirring and other familiar sounds, but that does little to detract from violently topical and sharply observed – yes, I’ll say it – hitman horror Film.