Photo by IFC FilmBritish director Ben Wheatley's latest movie, "Kill List," starts out as a claustrophobic domestic drama that at first blush seems something out of a Ken Loach movie. Jay (Neil Maskell) -- the sort of guy you might see at the end of the bar at the local pub -- has been out of work for 8 months and the money is starting to run out, something that his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), is not shy about pointing out. Jay proves to have a volcanic temper and little in the way of impulse control; in a botched trip to the grocery store, he buys 10 bottles of wine but fails to get the one item that was absolutely needed: toilet paper. This section of the film has a very loose, improvised feel to it, which grounds the movie in the mundane. Yet through editing and framing -- the camera always feels just a little too close for comfort -- Wheatley creates this eerie undercurrent. This subtle, deft layering of the quotidian and the creepy pays dividends later when the movie starts getting very, very strange.
During a dinner party, we learn that Jay's unemployment is self-imposed after a bungled gig in Kiev, the details of which are never revealed. Since the movie is called "Kill List," it shouldn't come to a surprise that Jay and with his mate Gal (Michael Smiley) are hired guns. Gal inveigles Jay to get back into the game with promise of a job: a contract killing of three people. And so "Kill List" gracefully shifts from a family drama to a gritty crime flick. Yet even here, something feels off. Just before target number one, a priest, gets whacked by Jay, he thanks him. When Jay makes an unsettling discovery about the sort of business the people he was hired to whack were engaged in, he doesn't just kill target number two, he pulls out some household tools and gets medieval on him. The scene is exceptionally graphic, and even as Gal recoils in disgust, the victim seems oddly pleased with the situation.
The last third of the film takes a sharp left turn into horror weirdness. The less said on what happens, the better, but it is far spookier and scarier than a hitman with a hammer. Stripped of all the bourgeois banality of the first chunk of the movie, we see a surprisingly effective depiction of evil at its most base and elemental. In the end, I'm not really sure if the twist works, but Wheatley deserves credit for going there. "Kill List" is a movie that keeps you guessing, freaks you out and then makes you want to argue over the ending. Any flick that does that is something of a success.
See the trailer for 'Kill List':