Kill List is the kind of film whose full impact doesn’t hit you until after you have had a chance to reel your mind in from the incredibly intense ending. Like Down Terrace, director Ben Wheatley’s last film, it follows the exploits of people living outside the law while moving in less expected directions, but has more of an emphasis on the physical and psychological pitfalls of their morally ambiguous lifestyles and the horrors, conventional and otherwise, it leads to.
Feeling the strain of a floundering economy, Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel’s (MyAnna Buring) marriage is spiraling downward more every day as the emotional outbursts become increasingly hostile. After an explosion at a dinner party, the marriage seems to be on its last leg when Jay decides to take up a new job with his friend Gal (Michael Smiley) to relieve some of the strain. Of course, being a hit man brings on its own stress, and taking on the new contract – aka the “kill list” – begins to take a turn for the sinister as the client’s agenda and antics become more and more bizarre.
While the men whittling down their list is what moves the action forward, the focus is really on the spell cast over the audience and the characters. Early on in the film, we see Fiona (Emma Fryer), Gal’s girlfriend, put a symbol of sorts onto a wall fixture in Jay and Shel’s home and from then on Jay’s psyche starts to crumble rapidly, causing him to become more reckless and violent – a scary thing considering he kills people for a living. Luckily, Gal is there, acting as a mentor of sorts, to pull him back in, even if it is only for a few moments at a time. Kill List isn’t a film with big scares or loud noises; it’s one that strives to be unsettling, and it succeeds in spades.
The religious parallel functions quite effortlessly alongside the psychological aspects, as Jay’s susceptibility to “bad mojo” is increased as he renounces belief in a higher power. Not only does his job require him to throw moral convictions out the window but, as he explains to a fellow diner at his hotel’s restaurant who decides to play Christian tunes during dinner, he doesn’t believe God exists. Although third act revelations play into the internal conflict, Jay really begins his descent into religious turmoil when he assassinates a priest with little remorse.
Kill List is a film that warrants a second viewing, if only to see how seemingly unrelated incidents connect in hindsight. On a first watch, however, Wheatley’s hit man horror is an atmospheric delight, boasting incredibly intense performances by Maskell and Smiley, and a doozy of an ending that will unhinge even the most hardened of genre fans.
IFC continues their great HD track record with Kill List. The transfer provides excellent clarity and contrast, especially during outdoor nighttime scenes, and shadows have a good amount of detail and depth. The forest scenes in the third act are incredible; you can make out the individual splinters of wood in a few shots. The only issue I have with the picture is that things seem to get blurry for a second or two here and there, but that has more to do with the source material. The DTS HD 5.1 is handled just as well. The score is a very big reason why the film carries the atmosphere that is does, and it’s mastered just right and has a chance to shine more than a few times. Ambient noises are also given their due, and the dialogue is pretty crisp and clean sounding. The AQ/PQ isn’t reference material, but there isn’t anything to complain about here.
Commentary – The first track features director Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump, who chat about the creative process and some of the film’s other nuances. Wheatley ventures into technical territory during a few scenes and has a few “who, when, why” discussions with Jump for the listener’s sake. Surprisingly, their discussion of the third act leaves a little to be desired, but that might have been intentional. The second track features Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, and Michael Smiley talking about their roles, motivations, and the usual sorts of things actors discuss on commentaries. The two tracks are the best extras on the disc because they cover the same topics as the interviews but are much more in-depth. If you’ve got the time, both commentaries are worth listening to but if you only want the cliff notes, check out the other special features.
Ben Wheatley Interview (6:27) – Wheatley discusses the origins of the film (he started putting it together almost immediately after Down Terrace), the working relationship he has with his wife/co-writer, casting, and the film’s structure. The answers he gives are sadly brief, so don’t expect anything really meaty.
Claire Jones and Andrew Starke Interview (7:41) – Two of the film’s producers get asked many of the same questions that Wheatley answered, plus a few about their take on what working with Wheatley is like. The answers seem a little on the generic side and while they seem very enthusiastic, they talk about it like a couple of outsiders that weren’t really involved.
MyAnna Buring and Neil Maskell Interview (10:23) – The best out of the three interview, Buring and Maskell talk about what appealed to them about the script, how they got into character, and their thoughts on the film’s structure, twist, and violence. They get asked a lot of same questions as the other interviewees on the disc, but they seem to give genuine answers. Maybe it just wasn’t a good day for the producers?
The Making Of Kill List (7:41) – A collection of raw footage from pre-production and production that plays out like a moving slideshow with very little talking.
Featurette (2:00) – Some scenes from the film mixed with clips from the interviews on the disc. It’s practically a trailer.