Ben Wheatley’s critically acclaimed British horror film has been turning heads for its unique approach to the genre and its uncompromising violence.
It is astonishing that director Ben Wheatley has been able to produce a film with such grand intentions on such a tiny budget. Shot for around £500,000, Wheatley’s graphically violent yet darkly comic portrayal of the path to damnation taken by two hit men is a nail-biting construction of family drama, murder and the occult built upon the creaking mental state of an ex-soldier-turned-contract-killer.
Thanks to multiple investors, including lottery funding through the UK Film Council as well as production assistance from Film4 and Screen Yorkshire, Kill List was shot in and around Sheffield in South Yorkshire and stars Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley and MyAnna Buring. Maskell plays Jay, a recently returned soldier serving in Kiev who is tasked by friend Gal (Smiley) to help him carry out a string of contract killings. With money low and his relationship with wife Shel (Buring) on the brink of collapse, he agrees to the job. But Jay’s unsavoury mental state appears fuelled by his newly acquired violent task and leaves him teetering on the brink of complete breakdown. This forces Gal to rethink their plans, conceivably pulling out of the contract. But thoughts of backing out quickly diminish as their employers prove their will is not to be taken lightly.
Kill List is an assured piece of filmmaking that interestingly sees kitchen sink drama in the age of 21st century recession intermingled with the raw, ferociously violent energy seen in recent Brit horrors Eden Lake and Dead Man’s Shoes. There’s also more than a nod of the cap to British horror classics like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General as well as Hammer Horror’s brushes with the devil. Particularly fascinating is the way Wheatley constructs his story. The adage “calm before the storm” has rarely been more apt. We begin with tensions around a middle class suburban dinner table colliding eventually with torture, slashed flesh, bloodied and battered heads, and ritual sacrifice. Wheatley’s hallucinatory journey is cold and disconnected like the character of Jay, and, in keeping with his unpredictable temper, the story’s downward spiral is similarly volatile and suitably uncertain.
Although the fate of the two contract killers comes as little surprise, Wheatley makes sure the audience has been put through the mincer. With increasing paranoia the director bullies the senses through a disturbing final quarter that wallows in gothic horror trappings inspired by the likes of Terrence Fisher (who directed many Hammer Horror films but particularly The Devil Rides Out) and of course Robin Hardy who made The Wicker Man. By the end of the film we’re praying to be back around that dinner table having an argument with the wife.
Review by Dan Stephens
Kill List is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK December 26th