Written by Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Directed by Ben Wheatley
United Kingdom, 2011
Jay and Gal are not your typical protagonists. They are as offensive as they are loyal, and as boorish as they charming. It would seem to destine Kill List for failure when so much of the film is banked on the relationships between the two hit men. The script is uncompromising in the way it promotes and glares at the relationships that make up the film. The relationship between the husband and wife pairing of Jay and Shel is held under the most damning microscope. While their relationship provides all the explosives, and the ultimate denouement, it is the relationship between Jay and Gal that propels and holds the film together at the same time.
The majority of Kill List is beyond ambiguous, it’s murky to the extreme. It’s not that the film makes it hard to figure out what is going on, in fact one of the most important moments in the film is an utter failure because of how easy it is to figure out what is happening. Rather, Ben Wheatley’s sophomore effort focuses on atmosphere and the disarming effect of the characters not understanding what is going on in their lives. For the viewer it is all to obvious that something is amiss. The direction of the film makes sure we know that the world these characters inhabit has been uprooted in some way. What the script, and the direction, do in near perfect fashion is to remove us from the characters. There’s no connection to be made with the characters, and most of the time we know more than the characters ever do. In a roundabout manner this made it where the desire for the characters to figure out what was happening became the centerpiece of the film as opposed to the viewer needing to unravel a mystery on their own.
The unfortunate side effect of a script that lets the viewer know more than the characters is that an air of predictability takes root in some of the most important moments. When a character uncovers a bundle of files there’s no doubt that they will in some way relate to our characters. When our main protagonist squares off with the hunchback the identity of the hunchback is never in question. The knowledge of what is coming does dampen the impact of the films true power moments. When the viewer should be cringing or questioning the result is instead, “Oh, just as I thought.”
The predictability and knowledge problems found in Kill List are overcome by the atmosphere of Mr. Wheatley’s direction. In the end the film is more than it should be thanks to its atmosphere and the intriguing performances of the main players. The script does come close to undoing the great work of the direction, but the faults of Kill List are staved off by the directorial approach taken in regards to the application of atmosphere. The film is also helped by the beauty of Laurie Rose’s cinematography. Her use of flame and darkness to hide the violence in the penultimate moments of the film are wonderful to watch.
Kill List is flawed, but it is always intriguing and brutally good looking. By no means is Kill List a conventional horror film, it’s an eerie trip into the clash between viewer and character. Knowledge is at the heart of the film, as is the craftsmanship of a director. In a day and age where people are clamoring for something new Kill List is more than willing to give horror aficionados something new to experience. If Kill List accomplishes nothing else it should leave most horror fans with plenty to think about.