As I previously stated in my review for Rebecca, I’ve had an interesting relationship with director Ben Wheatley. In reality, it’s because I never understood his usage of violence. Sometimes, it plays comedically (Sightseers), and other times so matter-of-fact (High-Rise). As he’s recently been announced as directing both the sequels of Tomb Raide, and The Meg (both, are films I’m looking forward to, mostly out of curiosity sake), he’s stated that as he evolves as a filmmaker, he’s less interested in the physical visceral violence. He’s become infatuated with emotional visceral violence. Kill List seems the film where he does both, and as of so far, the best.
Kill List is about two men Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) who at one point used to be soldiers, but have since become hit-men. Maskell has since also worked with Wheatley on Happy New Year, Colin Burstead and High-Rise. And Smiley is a reoccurring cast in most of Wheatley’s work, including when he helmed Doctor Who, as well as Free Fire, and Down Terrace. The next day, Jay and Gal meet with The Client (as he is credited) and they are given a list of three people they have to kill. The Client then takes a knife and cuts Jay’s hand, and makes him bleed on the contract.
Jay and Gal then go and find the three marks, each getting more intense and deeper than the one before. The first mark is “The Priest”, who greets Jay with a smile before being shot in the head. It’s simple and clean. But the future marks (“The Librarian”, and “The MP”) both find themselves deeper in the strange rabbit hole that they’ve found themselves in.
Meanwhile, Jay keeps running into problems with his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), mostly because they’re running low on money, but also because Jay keeps starting fights. It’s here that it’s clear that Ben Wheatley loves emotional violence because the fights are so intense that I felt I needed a breather from the film. This brings to the incredible editing, the film plays so ominously from the beginning. You’re never truly aware of what you’re watching, just that something scary is around every corner. The film also loves to skip the ellipsis in scenes. As a scene is about to end, Ben Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump wrote and edited the film (along with Robin Hill) just cut to a black screen, and start in the next scene. This becomes so much more alarming when we are watching the brutality surrounding “The Librarian” where I hope they cut away. But they never do, and typically, they show it before the audience is even ready to react to it.
The deeper they go in the rabbit hole, the deeper into a form of hell they go. Things become more bizarre as they find themselves surrounded by cults and sacrifices. I will not spoil the ending of the film, and as the film leaves you guessing what it all means, you’re left with a film that leaves me shaking. Between all the emotional and physical violence, lies a conspiracy of sorts that is worse than any of the things we have seen. The Librarian doesn’t participate in the evil doings they find out about, he just saves the documentation of it. Not to say as evil as what’s been done, but not safe from damnation.
Kill List is often regarded as Ben Wheatley’s best film, and while I disagree (High-Rise and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead are films I absolutely adore), I believe it is the film that perfectly encapsulates what Ben Wheatley’s sensibilities. Again, sometimes he’s defined in his almost shock-value intensity found in violence, and with Kill List, you have the emotional and the physical coming at you from both sides of the spectrum leaving you like the unfortunate little child, asking for a bit of peace. Just like The Priest seemed to have, and just like The Librarian did as he thanked them before he died. But perhaps, that’s the hell that Wheatley is showing us in this film, how violence is not only accepted, but rewarded.