Kill List (18)
The heart of Kill List is dark and twisted, hinting at a parallel world barely glimpsed by the average citizen, and then only via a blurred peripheral vision.
As a horror film-cum-road movie this immediately attains cult status, jumping as it does from skewed men-on-a-mission movie to something much baser, taking with it the two central protagonists and, by association, the watching audience. It also plays with loyalties and affiliations as what is expected becomes something far more dreadful, and anticipation sets the heart racing.
Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, in breakthrough performances, are Jay and Gal, two contract killers handed an assignment that takes them onto the road, their “kill list” in hand.
But director/co-writer Ben Wheatley is not content with examining the psychological intricacies of hitmen and their credo. Instead he throws open a wider consideration of their world, adding mental instability, paranoia and pagan intrigue to a plot that has the courage to fire off in several different directions.
Nor is Wheatley scared of blood-letting and its effects. Jay’s watch-spring nerves are a time bomb waiting to go off and even Gal is appalled at his friend’s descent into ultraviolence. The fact that is represented nakedly on screen will be enough to set some people’s teeth on edge.
Kill List as a naturalistic and energetic thriller/chiller that echoes Don Siegel’s The Killers whilst simultaneously occupying similar territory to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. It is stark, quasi-minimalist and asks relevant questions about what ex-soldiers do when they’re no longer in a war zone.
But, more than that, it dares to look deeper into a ruptured society that may yet mask an older, darker underground social order. The fact that our heroes’ ultimate target is an MP with a penchant for ritualistic savagery may be a low blow aimed at the British Establishment but it has tendrils that snake back to the days of Sir Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club.
Made by Sheffield-based Warp Films and largely shot in the city, Kill List is another of Warp’s forays into the unusual, the excessive and the disturbing. It hints at the arrival of a major new talent in Wheatley, presents tremendous opportunities for Maskell and Smiley (which they do not waste) and will give foreign viewers another reason to buy into Yorkshire’s reputation as a land of ancient terrors.
The enigmatic nature of the story’s conclusion only adds to its power.