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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

Kill List

2011 | United Kingdom | 95 min | More...
A still from Kill List (2011)
B+: 4 stars (out of 5)
on Sat Dec 19, 2020

My favorite line in Kill List comes late in the second act, when one character asks another, “How long have we been working for you?”

The angry tone—like asking an employee how long they’ve been stealing—belies the mounting sense of dread.

The plot concerns two contract killers, Jay and Gal, who take a job—the titular list—involving three targets. Things go sideways fast, leading to the above line.

But Kill List’s talent lies in how it approaches the material. Writer-director Ben Wheatley’s sophomore effort evokes his debut, Down Terrace, with hand-held cameras, shorthand dialog, and jump-cuts lending a documentary feel.

Consider the opening. An argument between Jay and his wife, Shel. She’s complaining about their lack of money. Jay dismisses her concerns. Shel keeps on him. Shouting escalates to screaming. Their grade school-aged son witnesses their rage with mute horror.

Into this domestic strife comes Jay’s friend and partner Gal, played by Michael Smiley, who arrives with his new girlfriend, Fiona, for a dinner party. Fiona works in human resources. “If there is a department that is under-performing, then I go in and assess the extraneous manpower and de-force accordingly,” she explains.

This proves prophetic as the film begins a gradual pivot into existential horror. As the story unfolds, Wheatley contrasts the dominant realism with formal interstitial moments—such as Jay and Gal exiting their car framed by a rainbow—to engender a perpetual sense of unease.

Crime, existential horror, and trap movies rank among my favorite genres, landing this blend right in my wheelhouse, but it falls short of greatness. Wheatley raises more questions than he answers, which is fine, but the minimalist ending left me frustrated. The open-ended nature felt like The Wicker Man, The Witch or Hereditary without their closing scenes. For some, this will be an asset, but I missed the big-picture gut-punch atop the psychological horror.

Viewing History

    Watched on
    Sat Mar 11, 2023 via Blu-ray (MPI Media Group, 2012)
    Watched on
    Sat Dec 19, 2020 via Blu-ray (MPI Media Group, 2012)
    Watched on
    Sun Nov 10, 2013 via Netflix