“She’s a demon in bed, let me tell you.”
Sometimes, it can feel like you’ve seen it all. Like most film and horror buffs, I have seen tons of movies. I have also seen tons of the same movies tons of times – if Evil Dead is on the television, I will sit down and I will watch it. I enjoy the warm-blanket pleasures of revisiting the classics, just as I enjoy modern pastiches that hit the beats and capture some of the mood of older films by riffing on the masters. What really keeps me going, though, is seeing something truly original and exciting, like the first time I saw Evil Dead. Those rare collisions of energy and vision that imbue a film with dark magic. When it happens, it reminds me of why I fell in love with horror movies in the first place. Kill List gave me that thrill, and I can’t think of any greater praise than that.
I’d rather not reveal too much, so I’ll try to keep things vague. The film opens on Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), seemingly normal suburbanites – one kid, nice house, domestic normalcy as far as the eye can see – are suffering under common suburban problems. Dwindling money, mostly because Jay hasn’t worked in eight months. So far, so normal. Shel invites Jay’s friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer), a human resources manager, over for dinner under pretense of a simple social gathering, when in reality Gal has a job to offer Jay. Filmed in a stark documentary, realist style, there’s nothing horrific thus far beyond the struggles all of us face. We soon learn, however, that Jay and Gal have history together, both in the military and post-military where they found work as hit men. Gal’s job is an offer to continue where they left off. When Fiona carves a strange symbol on the back of the bathroom mirror and steals a tissue covered in Jay’s blood from shaving nick, we’re off on a dark, disturbing descent into a pagan fever dream.
Director Ben Wheatley masterfully juggles the banal of work travel – nondescript hotel rooms, calling home to check in with the wife, credit card problems – with the savage and infernal. There’s a feeling of inevitability about Kill List – it’s a slow motion, hallucinogenic crash into ritual and death. The actors are all tremendous. There’s a real sense of history between Jay and Gal – the in-jokes and frustrations between friends, the shared secrets. Jay and Shel are, at turns, tender and terrible to each other. Fiona exudes strangeness and dread like a young Barbara Steele. The film is beautifully shot, and the sound design is excellent – blows land with sickening crunches and thwacks, fires roar.
Kill List is a stunning film, and it’s a strange and unique vision. This is the first film by director Ben Wheatley that I’ve seen, but it won’t be the last. This isn’t a film of easy horror-trope pleasures, but it is a great film. Highly recommended for the adventurous viewer.