Watching Kill List was, for me, a rather disappointing experience. When it was released in theatres last autumn it received a large amount of critical fawning and praise, and I can understand why. It’s got some intelligently written dialogue in it; it’s shockingly bloody at times (and I mean shocking); and it has a whiplash turn of genre (about which I won’t say too much), the type that has you going “What the hell have I wondered into!?”. But I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for it other writers have. However, it does have the bravery to be different, and the balls to wrong-foot the audience more than once and get away with it. It’s a strange, strange picture.
The movie starts off with domestic drama of the sweary, loud, plate-smashing kind. A wife is pissed off with her husband spending all their money. Then the husband (Neil Maskell) and his best friend (Harry Simpson) go on a killing spree, working through a list given to them by a creepy client. The tension builds, the violence escalates, then in a bizarre final act we begin to see the true, sickening nature of where the story is headed.
The final scenes are really quite nasty, although I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was nasty, but also brilliant. But Kill List lacks such brilliance because of its refusal to answer the questions the viewer can’t help but ask. The final twist is the film’s biggest weakness, but because it’s so surprising many will choose to see it as its main strength. It passes over the line of ambiguity into the realms of the annoyingly nonsensical.
Before the hellish conclusion, everything is done very well indeed. A sense of foreboding and menace is expertly evoked, and the gory violence is savagely effective. There’s also some witty black comedy too, the highlight being a scene where Maskell’s character confronts a group of happy-clappy Christians who are obnoxiously spreading the love of God in a hotel restaurant.
Director Ben Wheatley, a rising star in low-budget British cinema, clearly has a lot of very interesting ideas. But because he abandons logic and goes for all out weirdness towards the end, the film loses credibility and fails to pack the punch it so desperately wants to. The closing moments offer up a final horror that is extremely vile, reminiscent of 2010’s sick-fest A Serbian Film. I can see what Wheatley was trying to do, and to some extent he just about manages it, but I don’t think this was his finest hour. I await his next film with interest.
Kill List (2011), directed by Ben Wheatley, is available on DVD and Blu-ray from StudioCanal, certificate 18. Due to the film’s subject matter, sensitive viewers are advised to seek further information on its content from www.bbfc.co.uk.