Kill List (18.)
Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodgers, Harry Simpson. 98 mins
Here is a movie that, in reality show parlance, takes you on a journey; starting you off in one place and leaving you an hour and half later in quite another. The pick up point is that mainstay of the British social drama – the domestic slanging match. Where it eventually drops you off is somewhere that you should find out for yourself. (There is though a big clue in the director’s surname.)
Wheatley made his debut with Down Terrace, a low low budget darkly comedic British housebound gangster film usually described in variations of The Sopranos directed by Ken Loach/ Mike Leigh. The follow up Kill List seems to have a considerably less stingy budget but again demonstrates Wheatley USP; a seamless merging of kitchen-sink drama and traditional genres.
Maskell and Smiley are a pair of out of shape, and possibly over the hill, ex-army boys gone freelance. With their muffin topped physiques they are not your stereotypical contract killers but they are believably unbelievable. In the opening fifteen minutes the performers bury themselves so far into their characters and their situation (Maskell marriage to Buring’s is under strain because he hasn’t worked in 8 months) that you’ll follow them anywhere. It’s a film where the audience is always two or three steps ahead of the protagonists. We notice the goalposts being slowly shifted but don’t resent them for not picking up on the significance of things.
It’s a striking, compelling mix - gripping, darkly humorous and occasionally sickeningly violent. It confirms Wheatley as a real talent but maybe he hasn’t quite nailed it this time out. If you look up Down Terrace online it’s a film where critics rating consistently outstrip those of viewers and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the same. The storytelling can be frustratingly oblique at times and there’s what I call a Living Daylight jolt towards the end when the film suddenly seems to leap ten minutes further into the story, plonking us disorientated straight into the finale without any preparation or build up.