Review: Kill List

Ben Wheatley’s critically acclaimed British horror film has been turning heads for its unique approach to the genre and its uncompromising violence.

kill list, british horror film, ben wheatley,

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

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Starring: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer
Released: 2011 / Genre: Horror / Country: UK / IMDB

Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray

More reviews: Latest | Archive

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    le0pard13 Reply

    You have me intrigued on this one, Dan. I wonder what the distribution plans are for the U.S.? Thanks.

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    Rodney Reply

    This interest me too, Dan. I might have to see if I can find a copy….

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    Scott Reply

    I have my review going up tomorrow. I wasn’t quite as taken as everyone else if I am honest. BUt I can see why people like it…

    I preferred Down Terrace though

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    Dan Reply

    @le0pard: I believe it is getting a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles from January 4th. It is also released on VOD from January 3rd so it’ll be a nice post-Christmas/New Year film to check out.

    The film definitely pays homage to films and filmmakers that influence director Ben Wheatley but there is an air of uniqueness that differentiates it from the sorts of horror films we’ve been seeing over the last ten years at least.

    @Rodney: Sorry Rodney, can’t find an Australian release date. But it appear on video-on-demand in January in the States so I guess it’ll be available on home video early next year. You could always order the UK DVD/blu-ray if you player supports multi-region?

    @Scott: Looking forward to the review Scott.

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    Thomas Reply

    I could not make up my mind whether it is a very good film – but I was glad that it exists, as with all the slick mainstream crap rolling down the Hollywood hills, edgy and uncomfortable is what I appreciate most in the theatre. It is something special, and not for the faint of heart and stomach, but what makes it worth seeing is the transition from Ken Loach territory into Wicker Man territory, and I love it for doing that!

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    ruth Reply

    I don’t think I have the nerves to see this but I know my friend Ted is highly anticipating it. Wow the budget is only £500,000, that is quite impressive.

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    Bonjour Tristesse Reply

    I am quite fond of the loud/quiet dynamic in music, and it seems that the same ploy works just as well for film. The way this film suddenly shifts gears is something I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the near future.

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    Raghav Modi Reply

    Brilliant review… I don’t need to write one… I’ll just direct people to yours 🙂 (Also I loved the film)

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