When a pre-opening symbol is eerily etched into the blackened screen, it’s clear that there’s something more sinister to director Ben Wheatley’s Brit-crime thriller.
And more indeed there is in Wheatley’s second feature outing that mashes up the best of British genres, dispensing with the status quo to descend into something truly diverse.
Mentally scarred from tours of Iraq and an unexplained last job in Kiev, Jay (Neil Maskell) is resigned to wallow in self-medicating anguish; resisting the wifely call to remedy his financial woes until inevitably having to face reality and accept an offer from best pal Gal (Michael Smiley) to take up arms once more.
Beginning as a domestic drama, mutating into a series of ultraviolent contract hits and then something altogether more disturbing, the British crime flick has never felt so different and disturbed.
A haunting score overlays from the start, instantly bringing a sense of foreboding eeriness to even the most mundane of domestic activities, reminiscent of ‘The Shining’.
Jay’s ex-soldier struggles with re-adjustment onto ‘Civvy Street’ and financial hardships with matrimonial altercations about shopping bills and broken Jacuzzi’s, a luxury and a symbol perhaps of a time when we all had it so good when coupled with commentary on austerity times.
An early chatty and comical dinner table gathering, heavy with punchy dialogue that Tarantino would have been proud of, becomes fractured by the tensions of wedded stress, giving a preliminary hint of the festering neurosis and self-loathing of Maskell’s seminal psycho; latterly shifting from genial geezer to despicable executioner.
‘Kill List’ begins its first horrific turn, moving from ‘soap’ to crime flick as Jay and Gal meet with ‘The Client’ to take up their lucrative contract of horrifically dispensing with a series of evil doers; all proceeded by a punctuated stylistic on screen white font pop up, giving title to their victims which serves to deepen the unfolding mystery.
It’s when Jay delivers their ultraviolent sentences that the mystery deepens further as his unhealed mental wounds begin to unravel him, becoming less professional in execution of what should be clean and calculated hits; these episodes are not for the fainthearted as Wheatley leaves nothing to the imagination, bucking convention and expectation with continuous shots that don’t turn away from Jay’s horrific crimes.
As best mate Gal accurately observes, he is a “madman” in the truest sense, unrelenting and unflinching when violently and increasingly chaotically dealing out final justice. He is the extreme bastard child of Hoskins and Winstone, one of Blighty’s terrifyingly best psychos of recent times.
Maskell brilliantly embodies the traditional Brit ‘crazy’, ordinary but ruthless; he and Smiley look unremarkable as the contract killers who are presented without gloss, operating within a bleak and brutal reality that has all the hallmarks of the best of British crime dramas.
Wheatley presents a completely unglamorous world throughout with council estate suburbia, sterile Travelodge’s and rain soaked stakeouts. It’s a world that feels all too real and far too close for comfort.
As ‘Kill list’ makes its last switch into a shocking finale, director Wheatley uncompromisingly completes his Brit-genre mix up that gives its biggest nod to classic British horror.
Critically, it’s an end that’s an unexplained stretch too far, giving no easy answers, brilliantly horrific, a sickening winding punch that after redrawing breath leaves the viewer with much to ponder.
Unlike anything else; ‘Kill list’ is extreme, brilliantly shocking and ultra-violent with contrasting humour that cunningly amplifies the undiluted episodic violence.