Film: Kill List
UK Release date: Out now
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley
Running time: 95 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
The less you know about Ben Wheatley’s (Down terrace) second feature the better. Opening events give no indication as to how bruised and battered you’ll feel by the time the final credits roll some 85 agonising minutes later. We’re talking about family disputes, irresponsible parents and cringe worthy dinner parties here. A set of circumstances so familiar, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Wheatley has set up shop in your own living room. Not only does he dress his gut-punching thriller in melodrama and side-splitting realism, his protagonists are largely unsympathetic (with the exception of Michael Smiley’s Gal). You wont find many heroes in this neighbourhood, but we all know a family like there’s and that’s what makes the opening act so uncomfortably engaging.
Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (Myanna Buring) are hosting a dinner party for old friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend. Tensions are already high, even before they introduce the red stuff, and Shel and Jay are constantly fighting over money troubles. Jay hasn’t worked in months, the bills are piling up, and there’s precious little hope of him convincing Shel that the new Jacuzzi fitting will aid his bad back. To make matters worse, Gal is positively coining it in with his latest venture and it’s only a matter of time before Jay gets back on the horse with him. It’s a nice little earner you see, too good to be true perhaps, but one that could put pay to Jay’s persistent bad memories. That’s all you need to know for now. You’ll soon discover when it comes to Kill List; it’s all in the details. Rest assured though, Jay and Gal do descend into a disturbing world, lives do unravel at an alarming pace, and fear and paranoia are sure to find them both in the heart of darkness.
It’s an astonishing movie that shocks and surprises at every turn. Maskell and Smiley might not look like your stereotypical leading men but they’re on top form here, with Smiley fairing better as the films most rounded character. Buring puts in a strong performance too, but it’s Smiley’s quirky Irish charm that’ll keep you from throwing in the towel when the shit well and truly hits the fan. Wheatley teases the audience throughout, raising questions and encouraging constant scrutiny. Why do the supporting players act the way they do? Are these events really taking place or could they be the work of Jay’s fragile mind? And why are the dinner guests drawing symbols on the back of the bathroom mirror? The answers do come, but you’ll have to join some of the dots yourself, Wheatley isn’t about to make it easy for anyone.
The beauty of Kill List is that it defies convention. Wheatley plays outside the box, outside a lot of boxes in fact, and his refusal to conform makes for a very dark and disturbing night in. With Kill List, he has established himself as a raw and uncompromising filmmaker. The outcome is perhaps predictable once it arrives, but the way that we get there isn’t. Believable characters, excellent performances and occasional graphic violence combine to exhilarating effect in one of the most memorable movies of the year. Its films like this that remind us why we love cinema, films that have the power to stay with you long after the lights go out.
Kill List could be the best British thriller you see all year, and I’m writing this in January. Outstanding.