Combining crime thriller tropes with a whacked out, twisted horror aesthetic, low-budget UK thriller Kill List is now available from IFC Midnight, featuring Neil Maskell and Myanna Buring. Steeped in dark, insular surrealism, Kill List suffers from a few rough edges, but is ultimately successful at cultivating a mood of thrumming unease, punctuated by moments of intense and explicit brutality.
Jay is a former military officer and highly paid hit man, breaking under the weight of financial instability, work-related emotional strain, and resultant marital tension. After an extended, listless hiatus precipitated by an allusively botched hit, Jay is coaxed back into the field by his long-time friend and colleague, Gal. Gal tips Jay off about a job proposal from a mysterious syndicate of elder gentleman who wants Gal and Jay to carry out a series of three successive hits – one priest, one librarian, and one member of British Parliament. The first hit goes off without a hitch despite some minor oddities, but as Jay and Gal persevere, Jay’s focus and self-control begin to deteriorate, submerged by a rising crest of uncontrolled rage and aggression. As Jay’s reality continues to fragment, his behavior becomes erratic and violent, and he descends into a dysphoric universe of intrigue, threats, and explosive, lurking destruction.
Kill List starts twisting the fabric of its own reality from the first scene, prodding the dark recesses of its central character’s guilt and trauma until they boil over and consume the narrative. The film’s slow-burning shifts between mundane naturalism and the nightmarish totality of Jay’s paranoid disintegration are orchestrated to be jarringly seamless, and if the film has one arguable weak spot, it’s the occasional shaky abruptness of its tonal transitions. Narrative incidents and character motivations become increasingly inexplicable as the movie progresses, waffling back and forth unsettlingly between tightly controlled restraint and spiraling insanity. The film’s slide into complete narrative anarchy sometimes feels confusing and sloppy rather than deliberate, but although it’s not flawless, Kill List’s goals are at least ambitious, and the strength of its paranoid mood is bolstered by powerful performances, a twitchy ambient noise soundtrack, and a shocking overflow of intense, bone-shattering violence.
For the DVD release, IFC sprung for cast and director commentary, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and some short interview clips with the cast and crew. The movie’s surrealistic breakdown of the crime genre is hauntingly deranged and absorbing, despite its few narrative weaknesses and occasionally derivative imagery (the film has been criticized by many for its pointed similarities to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man). Simultaneously a taut thriller and a mind-bending supernatural horror outing, Kill List is occasionally disorganized, but nonetheless genuinely searing and compelling.