Kill List (2011)

Director: Ben Wheatley

I can’t remember now why I picked this up, I must’ve seen praise for it somewhere that inspired me to shell out for it; anyway, it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while and the recent news that Ben Wheatley’s been signed to direct the first episodes of the next series of Doctor Who inspired me to take it down and watch it. I am baffled as hell as a result. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been as perplexed by what the fuck is going on in a horror film—albeit one that only really reveals itself as being one in the last 20 minutes or so—since A Tale of Two Sisters… It was quite instructive watching this after going through all the Lewton films, which John Carpenter famously dismissed for being too vague and suggestive and not explicit enough. He’d have no such issues with this film, which is unquestionably blunt when it comes to showing violence; where it stays vague, however, is the not exactly minor consideration of what it’s supposed to mean. I mean, yeah, broadly the narrative is clear: two former soldiers turned hitmen embark upon a job to kill certain people as ordered by a nameless client, which seems straightforward enough, except that as it goes on it starts to become less so… although not until the last third of the film do they (and we) realise just how fucked things actually are. I see many comparisons between this and the “folk horror” films of the late 60s/early 70s, particularly The Wicker Man; what that film has that I never felt this one did is a sense of events in the narrative actually adding up to something. That “what the fuck just happened” aspect to the latter part of the film, what it means and just how (or even if) the business earlier in the film relates to it and all that, seems to be the sticking point with quite a few critics I’ve read online; there are interpretations that make sense, but I don’t think I would’ve drawn them myself, at least not from one viewing, I just didn’t think the film offered me enough to work on. What Kill List does well is the relationship between Jay and Gal, our two dubious “heroes”; Michael Smiley—apparently much better known as a comedian—is particularly good as the latter (he seems to have been a particularly gifted improviser on set). I suspect it might make more sense on a repeat viewing, but otherwise I’m not sure I actually feel inclined to give the film that much attention. Maybe once will do.

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