Kill List | Film review
Chatty hitmen and the horrors of the occult make for strange bedfellows in this British thriller.
An unholy marriage of post-Tarantino crime drama and occult horror, Kill List reminds us that just because you can stitch together disparate genres doesn’t mean you should. The dominant half of the film’s equation is the chatty-hit-man material, served here with a heaping side of art-cinema pretension. Maybe it’s the thick, nearly unintelligible British accents, but it takes a decent stretch of running time for it to register that Jay (Neil Maskell) isn’t just a put-upon family man but also a former soldier who kills to pay the bills. Like the U.K.’s dour, humorless answer to Vincent and Jules, our hero and his mild-mannered partner, Gal (Michael Smiley), knock back cold ones and talk shop (if the mark has a dog, do you kill it, too?) before performing their nasty business. And we do mean nasty: Reinforcing Jay’s unsavory claim that their victims deserve to suffer, Kill List amps up the casual brutality, zeroing in on shattered kneecaps and faces bashed to pulp, Irreversible-style.
Perhaps aware that his life-of-an-assassin plot holds little interest, cowriter-director Ben Wheatley teases the inevitable genre swap. Ominous music and a scrawled Blair Witch–like symbol are the clues that something wicked this way comes. Despite a couple of suspenseful sequences—a fevered pursuit through a narrow passageway, a cruel but cheaply effective ending—Kill List feels like an oil-and-water concoction. Mostly what you walk away with is the impression that Wheatley really likes Pulp Fiction and The Wicker Man, though it’s not clear he understands the appeal of either. (Available on VOD Wed 4; see ifcfilms.com for details.)