Monday, January 23, 2012

Kill List (Review)

Kill List

Kill List (2012)

Directed by Ben Wheatley

On the surface, Kill List looks to be your standard five and dime crime thriller. Underworld goons doing their trade eliminating threats for $$. But as I thought about the film after watching it, you start seeing the layers underneath Kill List that enable you to see a movie that has more than meets the eye.

Kill List is a film that slowly burns you into a look into the life of a retired hit man and scopes out a world where his past, his present and his future all collide into an orgy of madness. It's an interesting journey seeing a drama, gore soaked slaughter and a Wicker Man-ish horror flick all blended into one. Sure there is a twist at the end and numerous unanswered questions which make you go WTF but it stills hit you harder than a hail of bullets.

What you'll get from Kill List is a character study of a soldier turned assassin who elects to try to live as a normal but it seems PTSD and pure conditioning to kill are not as easy to shut down when you get home. There is pure hell to pay for the sins of your past and it seems mysterious forces want have molded our hit man's world into their own.

Kill List is a solid flick that may seem like Pulp Fiction without the glitz and glamour. And for that it gets high marks for showing me a touch of all the genres I love from the UK.

Boring Plot-O-Matic

Eight months after a disastrous job in Kiev left him physically and mentally scarred, ex-soldier turned contract killer, Jay, is pressured by his partner, Gal, into taking a new assignment. As they descend into the dark and disturbing world of the contract, Jay begins to unravel once again - his fear and paranoia sending him deep into the heart of darkness.

Awesome Review-O-Matic

I'm going to break this down via Earth layers. Seems easier that way as far as I'm concerned.

The Crust

Kill List starts off as we see Jay and his Swedish wife Shel arguing about money. It seems Jay is a retired ex soldier with tours of Iraq who came back and went all crime underworld . We meet his friend and partner Gal and during a dinner party they talk about their lives, a past botched job and the life they now lead.

Clearly Wheatley uses this first Act to make us care for Jay and Gal and their alpha male shenanigans. Jay and Shel have a son and we see his fatherly side as well as Mr. Husband. Both Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) have an uneasy relationship and you can see the scars Jay has been dealing with bubbling up. He's angry and all his instincts have have been dulled by being in this normal life.

Both Maskell and Buring give off good chemistry as a husband and wife who know they have had issues as they both transition to normals (Shel knows Jay is a hit man which is unique). Michael Smiley as Gal is still struggling to go normal but it seems as we move on the the list, we'll see who still has the instincts to do the job.

The Mantle

As both Jay and Gal fulfill their assignments, Jay slowly descents into what he was in the past. Before they embark on the kill, they stake out their victims finding in their now grey moral world reasons to take them out. The kills involving a Priest (highlighted in big white text), a Librarian are dastardly brutal. They slowly start out as professionals but it seems as Jay's scars get reopened (allegor-ized by a inflicted slice on his hand) he's going towards the deep end.

It begs the question can a soldier or even a hit man just turn off "their switch" when they retire? Is it just that easy to do? Kill List says no and I agree. Jay who seemed to be a brutal killer back in the day is as vicious when he gets a taste for it again. Each of the victims on "the list" are moral embodiments to stop him from going back to his killing ways. A priest representing morality, a librarian representing logic and a government official representing the law. Jay ignores all of this and slaughters them all.

The Core

The final scenes with the final kill go into weird Wicker Man territory. Everybody seems to have been played and characters who looked idle appear to be more sinister. A action sequence through a tunnel is mesmerzingly claustrophobic and vicious. These last scenes are very peculiar whipping in survival horror with bizarre rituals. It' s possibly fitting Jay confronts organized chaos as his final test. Having been now conditioned into a cold blooded killer/soldier, his instincts kick in and he becomes the embodiment of a savage.

Could we have gotten a better explanation of the "game" being played? Final answers on why characters actions became oddly weird? Sure but Whealtey seems to want us to fill in the holes which is fine with me.

Kill List gets a barely 3 spinkicks from me for taking me on a long journey of how easily a man can be stripped of his normal suit and launched into a naked and vicious savage. That's what you should take away from Kill List.




Hammer to the head trauma
Gunshots to the head
Torture trauma
Sliced bowel trauma

WTF moment

The twist ending

The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis

Kill List is available on VOD and on Amazon Instant Video. It comes out in theaters on February 3rd.


Check out the trailer.


  1. His wife knew he was a contract killer? I thought he made her believe he was in special forces (as evidenced by the picture he picked up at the beginning).

    Anywhos, yeah, this one is a real mind bender. I kind of took what you did from the ending and came up with my interpretation: that the act perpetrated by Sam's girlfriend at the beginning kind of 'cursed' the family. Mom and son became participants (willing or not remains to be seen) and Jay's world is shattered when everything catches his up to him as he lets his natural instincts kick in. It's no wonder they didn't during that tense dinner confrontation.

    A stellar film all around. Loved it.

  2. Great review...I've read quite a lot of stuff about Kill List but yours is as good as I've found, concise and thoughtful. I'm not sure that the film is as deep and layered as some seem to think but it certainly sparks debate and makes you ask some questions. There were a couple of really menacing scenes ( the dinner party / the hotel restraunt ) and some scenes that were tough to watch ( the hammer ) but I thought it kind of lost it's way at the end. Good film, cracking review.

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