It’s the aftershock that kills you.
Emotional tremors have clearly been rocking the lives of Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) for some time, probably years before the beginning of Kill List, directed by Ben Wheatley. Their marriage is fraying at the edges and seems likely to unravel completely after Jay erupts at a small dinner party, causing an earthquake of epic proportions, relatively speaking.
And that’s a dangerous thing, because Jay is a hit man.
Like Down Terrace, Wheatley’s directorial debut, Kill List develops in an unexpected fashion. The narrative rhythms quickly jump off the beaten path, so the viewer has to negotiate the ups and downs experienced by the characters without conventional guardrails. It’s akin to walking into a cavern without guide lines and a faltering headlamp.
Whereas Down Terrace mixed dark humor with its criminal elements, Kill Listintentionally offers little in the way of comic relief, instead focusing on the domestic strain — Jay and Shel also have a young son — and on the occupational hazards that come with Jay’s job.Jay is partnered with best friend Gal (Michael Smiley) on their assignments, with one dealing with the target, and the other other handling security. Gal and his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) are the only others present for Jay’s meltdown, an explosion that’s met with the requisite awkwardness and uncomfortable conversations. Oddly enough, however, we also see Fiona taking down a picture in Jay and Shel’s place, and drawing a symbol on the back before replacing it. Shortly thereafter, Fiona breaks up with Gal, which leaves him devastated.
That’s nothing compared with Jay’s increasingly violent actions. Bearing in mind that he is a paid killer, the escalating violence has more to do with how he’s carrying out his duties, and that violence is explicitly depicted in graphic, bloody, and painful scenes.
Jay and Gal are not John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, gabbing about drugs and royale with cheese and toes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Instead, Jay and Gal are purposeful and efficient, which presents challenges when Jay heads off the reservation in his vicious attacks.
It’s all part of a lengthy lead up and, eventually, further activities that justify slotting Kill List in a midnight slot at a film festival.
Kill List is a film that almost certainly demands and will reward a second viewing, if nothing else to fully appreciate what Wheatley is doing here, combining a seething dramatic atmosphere where naturalistic conversational exchanges arise, with blunt passion and actions that reflect the inner turmoil of the characters.
And a killer ending.
[Kill List opens today at the Texas Theatre. Review originally published at Twitch.]