Some of my favorite movies are the ones that haunt my thoughts and linger in my brain for days, weeks or months after initially watching it. Upon watching KILL LIST I was left with this feeling of dread not unlike I have felt from movies I hated for any number of reasons. The difference here is that I do not hate KILL LIST- in fact it’s quite the opposite. Maybe it’s the progression from drama to thriller to horror or the sheer power of the violent imagery that makes the film so unsettling, but either way the film has been infiltrating my every thought ever since the final reel.
KILL LIST is best viewed knowing as little as possible so I will keep it only to the basics. Jay (Neil Maskell) is a former soldier struggling mentally and financially with his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and son. His friend Gal (Michael Smiley) talks him into taking a contract to kill a list of people to earn some extra cash. That’s the basic set up and the best way to avoid any hint of spoilers.
Everyone who has ever had a story to tell has gotten to the end and are met with blank stares of confusion and indifference- those stories are almost always followed with “I guess you had to be there.” Everyone has tried to recall dreams to friends, family and therapists to analyze and few times is there just one exact consensus. I believe a mixture of both these scenarios to be something similar to what writer/director Ben Wheatley has with KILL LIST. At the end of the day there may be an answer to the events but the fractured narrative and style of the film allows for endless theories and interpretations that allow the viewer to basically put together whatever type of film they want.
I’ve run through several scenarios myself and essentially I end up with more questions than answers and find holes in my own interpretation just when I think I’m satisfied. As my own dreams/nightmares go I could put them all to paper and share them and the collective “WTF” of minds putting images to the descriptions could mirror how many will feel at the end of KILL LIST. Wheatley directs the film with a purpose but in a way that has a disorienting effect- which may in itself be part of Wheatley’s bigger picture.
The mental stability of the main character is shaky at best and with the constant and sudden cuts to dark makes it hard to ever really plant your perceptions on firm ground. The imperfections of the actual filmmaking seem deliberate however I don’t want to come off as forgiving of the flaws. In the end even if the direction and style is done purposely to create dread and instability in the audience they can still be viewed as flaws. I was not turned off by the vague nature of the plot or the strobe light effect of the camera sometimes cutting out and back in or even the indecipherable nature of some of the character’s dialogue. That’s my take on some of the off-putting aspects of the film, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that people are going to hate this movie with the fury of a thousand suns.
I don’t want to just be another voice in the crowd of love here, but I really do have few complaints about the film. Do I think its perfect- not at all- but aside from not being able to understand every single word that’s said I don’t have a lot of negative things to say. The film is a very slow build to a climax that’s not designed to satisfy but instead get under your skin in one way or another. I firmly believe that aspects of the finale can be deducted throughout- it’s the implications of character’s actions and overall effect where the ending really left me in a haze of mixed emotions from confusion to just feeling very unsettled about what just happened and how it all fits together.
The performances from the three main leads are phenomenal- I particularly liked Michael Smiley’s character, Gal, for the comedy relief lines he supplies and just the nature of his character in general. The violence in the film is not always stomach churning but there are moments that are not for the squeamish- especially a moment involving a hammer. The violence however does affect just how disturbing the film is as a whole and in context to how victims react in the moments of violence.
On top of everything else there’s a great score that adds to the tension. The first 2/3 of the film have hints of something brewing under the surface but the music is dark and brooding and resembles that of a horror movie when actually what your watching is a family drama and a crime thriller. When the finale kicks off the music just gets even more haunting and ominous just as things are really spiraling out of control. At times the music overshadows the fact that the characters mumble and whisper in barely audible accents. Essentially, there are good and bad in every movie and for KILL LIST sound carries a little of both.
KILL LIST ventures into some extremely dark territory and it takes a lot of trust on the viewer’s part to see it through till the end. To me the film is not meant to leave people with instant gratification and instead requires multiple viewings and reflection in order to get the most satisfaction out of it. For those that have the patience to let the film soak all the way in I believe will come away with a greater appreciation for the experience. When the dust settles KILL LIST is a moody character study that freefalls into a horrific nightmare of violence. It highlights the horror of domestic drama and psychological struggles until it just spirals into full on horror and the implications of the ending are as dark as it gets.