Movie Review: Kill List

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Director: Ben Wheatley

Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump

Stars: Neil MaskellMyAnna BuringMichael SmileyEmma Fryer

Verdict: Really good

Ben Wheatley, (SightseersHigh-Rise), delivers with Kill List one of the most uncomfortable movie experiences you will come across. Neil Maskell, (Utopia), plays a nouveau riche supposed travelling salesmen who claims to not have worked for 8 months due to a back injury after a fateful outing in Kiev. He’s in financial straits, his marriage is falling apart and when his ex partner Michael Smiley, (The World’s EndLuther), comes round for dinner, going back to work seems like the only way out, at which point it becomes clear they’re not travelling salesmen.

I have a strange twisted history with this movie, I’ve always loved horror films, so when my father and I came across a Kill List DVD adorned with quotes like “The best British horror movie in years”, it seemed like the natural choice. Unfortunately we hated it. Now I always turned my nose up at Mark Kermode’s story of hating David Lynch’s Blue Velvet first time around because it was just so overpowering, but I think that’s the experience I had with Kill List, because the atmosphere is mephitic. Listening back to people talk about Kill List since, not least Kermode himself, they were lauding this overpowering sense of just uncomfortableness. So, with the coming of the month of Halloween, I thought I’d tackle Kill List again, almost as if to conquer some ill begotten demon. Needless to say it hasn’t changed much, except this time I loved it. It might be my favourite Ben Wheatley movie.

I’ve always liked Ben Wheatley as an idea more than a film maker. I love that his style is so uncompromising, I love that he makes films about actual people without trying to be Ken Loach, although class is a recurring theme in his movies. Most notably High-Rise but it is unmistakable that one of the fears this film explores is a nouveau riche, middle class anxiety of going off and living in the country, about putting up that pretence, and that anxiety about never having enough yet always wanting more. The film makes it clear with it’s opening shots, a quite wonderful score from Jim Williams, who’s worked on most of Ben Wheatley’s films, plays over shots of area where countryside meets housing. This sets in the underlying anxiety that will cause the unravelling of our protagonist. 

This unravelling is portrayed by Maskell in the same vein of gritty realism that really sells the drama, his performance is really believable and disturbing, it’s one of the most disturbing things about the film. It wouldn’t work, however, if he wasn’t playing of the quite incredible Micheal Smiley, who is fantastic but wonderfully understated. Together they portray, maybe better than any other on screen pair, two old friends. The real standout  though being MyAnna Buring, (The DescentThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and WineThe Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), who is really full on, but not in a Hollywood way, in a really, Ben Wheatley way. What this means is that when the ending comes, you really feel for our characters and what’s going on. 

It’s hard to talk about the film without mentioning the set piece ending which is quite incredible. It will leave you feeling quite sick, it’s quite ambiguous, creates more questions than it answers but maybe that’s the point. In the same way that something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre works because, nothing is answered and it makes no sense, the ending to Kill List works because the less sense it makes the more hopeless the situation. I mean, if you like a film that makes you want to throw up then I can’t really recommend this film enough y’know. 

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