Kill List (2012)
If David Lynch made The Usual Suspects…
Kill List is about a British army vet who tries playing the family man to his wife and kid, yet struggles to support them financially. Before long, the bills are piling up and he and his wife are at each other’s throats – largely due in part to his shit temper. So when one of his old army buddies offers him a quick, lucrative “job,” he reticently accepts and gets to doing what he does best. But as they make their way from one hit to the next, things start getting weird. Really weird. Eventually they realize that no amount of money’s worth whatever it is they’re involved in, but since their employers won’t have it, they continue forward to wherever it is they’re being led.
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about this movie, ’cause it’s been a good three or four months since I actually sat down and watched it. I blame video games: the reason I’ve always procrastinated at anything in life. Anyhow, letting your memories simmer for an entire season usually isn’t the best approach when trying to recall anything ever, but this one’s an exception. Even if I didn’t have an idiot-savant memory bank for movies, even if I forgot how to eat without drooling, Kill List would be vivid.
For starters, it’s a tough movie to define. It’s not a hitman story, it’s not a horror thriller, and it’s not a broken family drama; it’s something very much in between. Hopefully that wasn’t a surprise I just ruined, but even without the heads up, it doesn’t take the keenest of eyes to see that something funky’s going on beneath the surface. Why is that chick carving a bootleg Deathly Hallows symbol on the back of that mirror? Why did that dude smile before getting a bullet to the brain? Was that a blood pact? Pretty sure that was a blood pact. Do people actually do business like that? No, witches do business like that. Great. This isn’t gonna turn out well.
Questions like these are rampant in Kill List, and the answers are rarely found. It’s a movie where things just happen, bizarre things void of explanation or justification, and it’s actually because of that approach that it all works as well as it does. It’s kind of like Lost in a sense. A lot of people who hated Lost are the ones still wondering why there wasn’t a scientific explanation for the Smoke Monster. A lot of the people who adored Lost are the ones who learned to stop questioning and love the ride. Being a proud member of the latter fraternity, I couldn’t help but dig it.
But that’s not to say that Kill List is for everyone. It’s not all that scary in the crap-your-pants sense of the word, and there’s not much in the way of action or thrills either. More than anything, this one’s about the mood.
Some horror movies fail because they create a mystery and come up with a bullshit explanation to support it (lookin’ at you, The Happening), or they just have a good idea and don’t know where to go with it. What writer/director Ben Wheatley does is take a strong, genre-bending premise, then makes it better by keeping the audience on the same need-to-know basis as his characters, all of whom know dick. This may very well frustrate those looking a more “traditional” horror movie, but the best thing you can ever do when making a horror movie is to show and tell as little as humanly possible. It’s just rare and refreshing to find a movie that wants people to wonder “What the fuck is going on?” and keeps it that way ’til the end. It’s all about the mood, and the mood is freakin’ chilling.
The only real hiccup with Kill List is our protagonist Jay, played by Neil Maskell. The great thing about Jay is that he’s a very troubled fellow with a whole bunch of inner demons in need of exorcising. Despite all his efforts to be a good husband to his wife and a good father to his son, he’s a soldier to the core, longing for battle. He’s messed up and he’s probably got good reason for being so damn volatile all the time. The unfortunate thing about Jay is that he’s often blinded by his fits of rage, blinded to the point where you wonder if anyone could actually be that angry. Given his circumstances and some of the shit he witnesses, it doesn’t really make sense for him to keep barreling down his path of destruction, if only for self-preservation’s sake. Maybe it’s just me, but if some guy started thanking me right as I was about to thump his skull in with a tack hammer, I’d cut my losses and leave town lickety-split.
As a result, there are times when Jay borders on being a horror cliche, the kind of character that you can’t help but scream at because of all the dumb shit he keeps doing. But what ultimately saves him from this fate is that brooding sense of the unknown, that even if he wanted to escape, his fate has already been written by a power that he, nor us, can truly comprehend. It’s hard to say much else because there’s only so much that’s revealed, but it’s eerie as all hell and makes for a handy little sidestep around one of horror’s biggest pitfalls.
The thick British accents can be a chore to decipher, and the ending’s also a bit much, but, lord, if Kill List isn’t one of the more unnerving movies I’ve seen in quite some time. Aside from having one of the most jaw-droppingly violent murder scenes ever put to celluloid, there’s a lot about this movie that stuck with me for longer than I thought it would. Solid cast, inspired premise, and a really fantastic execution makes Aiden a happy man. There’s a lot of purpose and intention in the way Wheatley put this together, and while I didn’t really know what to think by the end, something tells me that was the whole point.