By on October 8th, 2011

Kill List

Ben Wheatly lives up to his literary namesake with Kill List, the follow up to 2010’s acclaimed Down Terrace. While adding a welcome element of verisimilitude to the familiar motifs of Dennis Wheatley’s campy scare stories, the movie kind of misses the point – these things are meant to be, y’know, fun right?

You can hardly blame the director for trying something new, and at first the genre-mixing premise is intriguing. In full Shane Meadows-esque documentary style we get the story of Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley), two former soldiers turned semi-retired assassins, introduced to us at a not so cordial dinner party during which a dispute over money between Jay and wife Shel (MyAna Buring) unleashes some feral marital dysfunction.

Apparently all this killer instinct has no outlet in domestic bliss. Jay , himself caught in a thankless spiral of transitory relationships, also struggles with adjusting to civilian life. Under Shel’s encouragement, the two impecunious friends agree to another hit job, under the auspices of a shady bunch of posh gangsters.

From the beginning we are made aware that this is no ordinary crime drama. Mutilated animals are found hanging on the front porch, shifty dinner guests leave mysterious runes on the bathroom mirror, and the atmosphere is thick with slow burning dread. A bleak digi-video style cinematography and doomy synth score add to the oppressive ambience. The performances of the principle actors, including Belfast’s own Michael Smiley, prove that Wheatley’s knack for eliciting naturalistic performances was no flash in the pan. In fact, throughout the first two thirds of the movie, the audience is taken into dark places that would be almost impossible in a conventional horror film.

Michael Smiley kindly informed Thursday night’s QFT audience that much of the script was improvised on set, and it shows- in a good way for the most part. Wheatley’s talent lies in collaboration, and together he and his actors capture some wonderfully true and naturalistic moments. The violence too, while gruesome, feels real, and Maskell’s rage palpable, something that was missing from last week’s brutal but infinitely glossier Drive.

On the other hand, I find the direction in which they take the story completely alien to this approach to film-making. Good horror is a very exact science, you need structure, to plan, and to know when to entice and when to spring the trap… by the time this mystery ambles casually into view, you feel like you’ve waited an hour in a Michelin star restaurant for a greasy bean burger. Nice. But wrong. The menu makes promises the kitchen cannot keep.

And there’s one more thing…

Apparently I am developing a reputation for being a spoiler-monger, so I will just end by saying, carefully, that the whole Dennis Wheatley approach to horror is frankly a little dated. I mean, this particular type of monster you can find on the youtube in seconds, and they are much more likely to be middle aged swingers or jaded adolescents than blood thirsty killers. I mean, I was technically one myself during my Marilyn Manson days… but I’ll leave it there.

There is one final twist at the end though that is pretty clever and deeply macabre, although by the time you get to it the suspense is kind of gone, so it feels a bit mean spirited. Still, there’s plenty to like in Kill List, and it is a must for gore hounds and genre-bending From Dusk Till Dawn fans (all four of you! Ha!

Please don’t kill me.)

Kill List


  1. 1 Novroz
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Sounds great!! thank you for sharing this and avoiding spoiler 😉
    Will see if I can find it

  2. 2 Julian
    October 10th, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    I will have to give this a shot.

    And do i count as a gorehound?

  3. 3 Julian
    October 11th, 2011 at 1:19 am

    Nevermind the second part of the comment. I forgot this is a guest post

  4. 4 Paragraph Film Reviews
    October 11th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I am itching to see this, it had a 1-week run at our Cineworld and I was in Spain, no chance of any other screenings in any local picturehouse… just waiting for the DVD now

  5. 5 Scott Lawlor
    October 11th, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I missed this, and I am so gutted. It was one of my most wanted flicks, especially after meeting Mr Wheatley at Big Screen

    Nice review

  6. 6 Dan
    October 11th, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    This looks great. Now I really want to see this having heard some bits and pieces about it. Good review.

  7. 7 Ronan
    October 12th, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Didn’t think you’d be into this Novia. It is apparently very violent.

  8. 8 Ronan
    October 13th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    This isn’t my cup of tea at all. My friend told me it was even more violent than Drive which I thought was unnecessarily excessive. A gore-hound I am not :-)

  9. 9 Ronan
    October 13th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    This isn’t my thing at all but I’m not really surprised it seems to be getting a good reception on the blog. I suppose we all have that darker side to us which we like to indulge every once in a while.

  10. 10 Ronan
    October 13th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I used to be into those Japanese extreme films like Audition and Old Boy, can’t think why. I think something about the extremity of it appealed to me. I could bare to watch anything like that now. My sensibilities are much too gentle for that now :-)

  11. 11 Julian
    October 14th, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I’m pretty sure Novroz is a horror fan, so i don’t think she would mind the violence.

    I tried to get this on streaming but its not available yet. I will be on the lookout for this tho

  12. 12 Julian
    October 14th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Do you consider me a gore-hound Ronan 😛

  13. 13 ruth
    October 14th, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I knew about this one ’cause my pal Ted really wanted to see this and wished it had been screened at the local film fest. I think the festival organizers didn’t pick this because of the excessive violence. It’s so not my cup of tea so I probably won’t be seeing this, Ronan.

  14. 14 Ronan
    October 17th, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Yes 😉

  15. 15 Ronan
    October 17th, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I had the opportunity to this Ruth but extreme violence isn’t my bag so I opted out. I think Doranman covered it nicely.

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