DVD Movie Review: Kill List (2011)

Kill ListWhy?

No doubt about it, Kill List (2011) from writer-director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers (2012), A Field in England (2013)) and co-writer Amy Jump (has worked with Wheatley previously on his two films cited above) is a belter – long has it been since a film blended genres (namely crime, thriller and gruelling horror) so well. I do have a couple of reservations, and we will get to those in due course, but let’s start with the (very) good stuff, shall we?

Taking us into the world of the seemingly entirely prosaic from the outset, we join Jay (Neil Maskell), his sexy wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and young son Sam (Harry Simpson) in suburbia. All appears not to be so well, however – Jay hasn’t ‘worked’ for eight months (he is a traumatized Iraq veteran, apparently), and this is putting pressure on the household finances. Well, Shel can’t have her jacuzzi as quickly as she wants it, and she is giving Jay more than a little grief. A friendly meal with Gal (Michael Smiley), Jay’s best friend with whom he ‘served’ and Gal’s girl Fiona (Emma Fryer) descends into ugly scenes when an inappropriate comment by Shel about Iraq gives Jay an excuse to fly off the handle, and then we learn the kind of work that the pair now actually specializes in, namely contract killings.

Their last job was botched, but Gal reveals the possibility of a new assignment, with a big pay-off promised by ‘The Client’ (Struan Rodger) for three easy kills. One meeting and a blood pact later, and the boys are back in town, but there is far more going on with the choice of contracts than meets the eye. They’re on the road to hell, they just don’t know it yet.


The script and acting are simply first class – tight, naturalistic exchanges that reveal the ‘Landaan’ and Irish origins of the protagonists, without ever once descending into Mockney or Oirish mockery, and the sense of menace, of something terrible looming, begins very early.

And the violence, while extraordinary, is consistently contextualized – Jay seems only too willing to allow his personal feelings to become involved in his job, much to Gal’s growing frustration and, as a result, when the horrifying crimes of the targets are revealed to Jay, he leaves a blood-bath in his wake. And then there is the strange ‘admiration’ offered to him by two of his victims, firstly a priest, then a paedophile – what’s all that about, then?

And here begin my only real problems with proceedings – the film builds to an astonishing climax, involving a surreal, murderous cult, which you are left feeling the gratitude expressed by Jay’s victims must tie in to, but this is never explained to the extent that I feel it should have been. True enough, too much explanation so often means the death of good horror, but I am nevertheless still left with the impression that the film could have been some 20 minutes longer. If it had have been, the entirely mystifying (and immaculately staged) denouement might have made more sense but, then again, my guess is that it’s a film I need to watch a second time, and pay absolute attention to – it’s doubtless me being slow, you know? 😉

Anyway, my original recommendation stands – don’t miss this, but I would appreciate hearing from any one who thinks they have the ending nailed.

95 mins.

5 thoughts on “DVD Movie Review: Kill List (2011)”

  1. It’s hard to post a comment without spoilers, as this is very much two different genres spliced into one (very well made) movie. I can’t fault you for the critique, James, except for the fact that I was satisfied with the ending in and of itself. Very much a case of it being far better to travel hopelessly than to arrive, if I may paraphrase.

    This will be something that splits audiences right down the middle. Hopefully, the success of Sightseers will give it a wider audience, and we can all have a bloody good scrap about it. 🙂

  2. Hey Colin, thanks for your kind words, and I am happy, rather than feeling the need to be contradictory, that you were satisfied with the ending. Spoliers are officially allowed, by the way, for any one else who is reading and feels they could explain the ending (and the film overall) to me? In my research, I have already found one critic comparing it with Macbeth, and rather well, I thought. Let battle commence… 🙂

  3. The tragedy is very Shakespearean in context but the creepiness is very Denis Wheatley. A strange and heady brew but one that spins a good yarn.

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