Eight months after a botched job in Kiev, Jay is an out-of-work hit man with no job and a wife constantly on his case. When his business partner and best friend Gal comes over for dinner and pressures Jay into taking a new assignment, Jay quickly finds himself back in the game with the promise of a big payoff after three assassinations. Although the hits start off without incident, soon things begin to unravel and Jay’s paranoia reveals itself as he is plunged into the heart of darkness.
Kill List is a British horror movie, directed by Ben Wheatley; it was filmed in Yorkshire, England. For the most part the film seems like a standard tale of two hit men and the banter they share throughout their lives/assignments. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is something sinister at play and everything might not be the way it appears.
Jay and Gal (Neil Maskell & Michael Smiley) are former soldiers who have become hitmen since they left the military. While Gal is laid back, Jay is still suffering from an unspecified disastrous mission in Kiev. Despite the urging of his wife Shel, he has not worked since, and they are running out of money. Shel (MyAnna Buring) organises a dinner party to which she invites Gal and his latest girlfriend, Fiona (Emma Fryer), a human resources manager.
During the evening, Gal reveals he has a new job for them, which Shel encourages him to take. Meanwhile, Fiona goes to the toilet and carves a symbol on the back of the bathroom but she doesn’t stop there, she takes a tissue that Jay had used to mop up his blood after a shaving accident. Jay accepts the job, and the two meet the shadowy client, who has a list of three people he wants killed. The employer unexpectedly cuts Jay’s hand and his own, so that the contract is effectively signed in blood.
Their first target, a priest, appears to recognise Jay and thanks him just before being killed. The second name on the list is an archivist who keeps a collection of horrific, sickening videos of an undisclosed nature. He also thanks Jay, who, out of disgust for the videos, tortures and savagely beats him to death with a hammer. Jay insists on chasing down and killing the archivist’s associates, and as Gal looks into their files, he finds a folder on himself and Jay, including details of their Kiev mission. Although they do not recognise it, the file includes the symbol that Fiona carved in Jay’s mirror.
Gal continues to become increasingly concerned over Jay’s erratic behaviour; he informs him that while raiding the safe in the home of the second target, he took enough money to cover the total sum they would receive for the contract. The pair decides to abandon the contract and return home. When his cut hand becomes infected, Jay visits his doctor, only to find that his regular doctor has been replaced by another man who will only give him cryptic advice. Jay and Gal return to their client and offer to find replacements to kill the last name on the list. The client refuses and says that both hitmen and their families will be killed if they do not complete the contract. Shel takes their son Sam to the family’s cottage for safekeeping while Jay and Gal go back to work.
I won’t go into much more detail on the plot as the third act involves their final target and leads to a big reveal which is quite a departure from the first two thirds of the film.
Kill list presents itself as a standard film about two hitmen and for the majority of the runtime that’s exactly what it is but it gives you this sense that something just isn’t quite right. It does a terrific job of creating this dark, moody atmosphere that oozes tension. It’s very quiet at times, a lot of scenes involve characters simply talking about their lives or just having general conversations; it all feels really natural and gives you a false sense of security. This sense of security comes with a layer of tension and discomforts that can be quite rare to find in a horror movie so it definitely deserves to be praised for that alone.
This subtlety comes with sudden outbursts of graphic, bloody violence that can be fairly unsettling. Being a British movie helped to give everything a feeling of realism and authenticity, just the way people act and talk would be relatable to anyone living in England.
Also, it’s held together by some very strong acting with large chunks of dialogue completely improvised. Gal has a thick Irish accent and Jay is from Sheffield so it can be quite tough to fully understand what they’re saying 100% of the time but again I feel this helped add to the authentic feeling the film had.
Unfortunately, as I said above the third act is a huge departure from everything I have praised and completely throws subtlety out the window. Still, I will say that I did at least find what happens to be very creepy but it does all come across in quite an absurd, unrealistic manner. The final moments are the most absurd of all and then the film just ends with no explanation of what exactly we had just seen. There are a number of moments throughout that required some type of clarification but it never comes so you’re left to make your own assumptions, it’s frustrating.
Kill List is a slow burn that requires the viewer to stick with it, listen and pay attention. If you can manage all of the above then you’ll be rewarded with a film that creates a rare sense of dread that will likely stick with you once the credits begin to roll. It somewhat throws it out the window by the end which is a shame and there are far too many plants without payoffs.