There is a moment in The Kill List so glaring and abrupt I paused unsure whether to allow myself to go along with the distraction or, altogether, question the director’s motives. I’ll grant him the neatly staged and visceral setpiece, since, as a development, it was somewhat absorbing. Enough to momentarily dismiss implausibility. Except my reaction came with the dreaded mixture of both belief and disbelief as the film had up to that point effectively taken turns exploring drama, crime and tinges of gonzo horror. Exclusively! One at a time! Throw in some mystery for good measure. It was not so much the juggling of genres as the tonal reinvention the film undergoes and examines one by one through each stage. Like Madonna. Or Kanye. Were it not for shock value to sustain it the first time through one would be justified in panning it outright. And given how novelty seldom is the wisest ploy to hitch one’s toil and labor to, the film is, quite simply, the textbook variety of biting more than one can chew.
A plunge into marital strife at the drop of a hat certainly did not help to curb the anticipation and the potential of a trek into one nightmarish rendition of domestic discord to coalesce into a bang—or something, anything but that ending!—is undone largely by the weight of its misguided attempt at overreaching for more. For one, this match made-in-hell hardly amounted to the omnipresent anchor to hold the film’s focus in place serving instead to show that Bean “Neatly” Wheatley knows a thing or two about how to dig his teeth into a meal. Even if the carcass in line is none other than a dead-by-flogging horse. This isn’t to proclaim that a pile of recently dropped shit at an exhibit can pass for artistic expression or that the domestic dramas are overdone. The tone is set with a couple’s argument so festering and malicious, it rivals the standard bearers in domestic violence. Pialat and Zulawski’s work come to mind. It is amour fou or, as the David Chase team of Sopranos writers coined for Tony: “Our mofo.” But none of it is helped when the crazed lovers are named Jay and Shel. The Brit & the Swede. Retired vets. The Anglo-Norse Ike & Tina of the armed forces.
A bit of foreshadowing missed by your boy is equal parts my ignorance of English literature, or lore, or whatever,—it’s Arthurian—and first-year film school filmmaking when a playful and rare moment of tranquility is replicated (ver actum?) in the shock finale. I say shock sarcastically. But before we get there, there is a whole lot of movie to discuss. Tucked within this 3-in-1 film is the less spoken of Veterans plight in that Jay, along with an inbred buddy of his from the army days, doesn’t possess employable skills to carry him over to post-deployment. The small talk when guests arrive is skillful exposition indeed, with one outsider to the group, Fiona, standing in for our collective unfamiliarity and induction into the plot. His buddy’s date Fiona’s Human Resources post seems to strike a puzzling concept as an icebreaker, stalling their conversation over dinner. Such is the culture shock for a, basically, well-attired chav who owns a house, is married yet is befuddled with the idea of an office job coming with its own title.
The source of Jay and Shel’s bickering is the ever reliable issue of money. Like, yawn. Not that she won’t stick a zucchini up his ass while they get it on or that he longed to fuck his hypothetically hot mother-in-law. The tried and tested dinero. So when a £40,000 is blown through in eight months I knew not of this couple’s careless spending habits but rather the sporadic nature of their incomes. Jay freelances as a hired gun and is admonished by Shel over a botched job in Ukraine treated mysteriously for the viewer, as well as lambasting his lack of initiative. Imagine that. “You’re not taking enough contracts, you’re sitting on your ass doing nothing when you didn’t have to buy the jacuzzi. Now I’m going to cry to my mother on the phone in Swedish so you don’t listen in. Fuck you” all within earshot of their son. Watching the two air out their dirty laundry and trading emotional blows, I wasn’t sure whom to be more frightened of. Jay caves in and takes on a hit list by a peculiar man resembling the invisible Joe Biden whom, by the way, if not holding up his end of the table as VP surely is here all along moonlighting in Brit thrillers as the client who takes vows of blood in the conference rooms of countryside inns. At least the formal air of diplomatic etiquette came in handy, what with the strong arm coercion these United States are proudly known for. Murrica!
The occult takes over with each target invoking an institution of pedophiliac proclivity like a Catholic priest and a child pornographer but adding an Angel Heart spin on the proceedings is the tranquility in the targets’ resignation to their fate and professed familiarity towards Jay as their last words. Thus the intrigue is elevated but, alas, as with the toxic marriage early on, it is left prematurely for the next best thing. The bloodthirsty duo lusts for blood differently with Jay tending to go overboard sending alarm bells into a cacophony of dings for his watchful partner. It is unclear whether the Ukrainian episode weighs more heavily in Jay’s violent unraveling or if the fatherly protective impulse and moral compass of ridding the world of one more predator is now spurring him on, but their kill list would spontaneously acquire more side attractions and autonomy. What’s more Ukrainian about this derailed killing spree is it beginning to resemble the same Ukrainian fiasco of eight months prior. At least in its diversion from the plan. After a talk the two would go on to rescind their contract or at least talk their way out of the third and final hit but to no avail. Their client sets them right with a few barely veiled threats.
This sends them to the secluded estate of a local politician, an MP. Far from a boastful gloat, I only knew by way of title cards. Let’s face it, people like me, common ass folk, don’t get invited to stately rural manors. We rent the tuxedos. To other people that can attend parties at said stately rural manors. Anyway Jay and his partner set up post nearby and the scene is beautifully set amid a moonlit forest. Biding their time for what exactly I do not have a clue and from the looks of the two-bit hitmen about to hit the hay more out of boredom than painstaking planning, neither do they. But they’re roused out of sleep by ritualistic chants beyond the trees and, what do you know, Jay, trigger-happy gung-ho punk that he is, starts shooting at the cultist nude parade alerting them to his position. High off peyote or just brimming with a deathwish, they charge the duo and force them on the back foot into a tunnel system in a scene resembling 28 Weeks Later and the Paris catacombs from As Above, So Below except it felt like 28 seconds until they were effectively done for. Not Jay though. He’s been saved for the coda. Paganism. It demands a more outwardly symbolic end. Jay springs away and unknowingly lures the mob to his family’s whereabouts where after some hide-and-seek they’re subdued by the rampage and taken to the makeshift, sacrificial platform outside. “Dance,” Jay is ordered. He is to fence about with a hunchbacked, draped figure for his life now. Jay fatally stabs it followed by every cloaked figure that matters revealing their identity. I thought the intrigue might payoff after this in particular but… it was Shel with their son on her back under a sheet, with Fiona and The Client in on it all along. Dimestore Shakespeare. Seriously??