Part thriller, part fever dream, British director Ben Wheatley’s genre mash-up Kill List is a shocking, unsettling, forceful work that plays like the missing link between The Wicker Man and Angel Heart by way of Get Carter.
Jay (Neil Maskell) is a suburban British husband and father who’s been unemployed for several months. Since then, he’s been bickering with his Swedish wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) over their dwindling funds and his inability – and perhap unwillingness to find work. The tension between them is so taut that they erupt into an explosive argument during a dinner party with Jay’s best friend and partner Gal (Michael Smiley) and his girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer).
At first blush, it seems to be playing out like another indie drama about a fractured marriage against the backdrop of a fractured economy and so on and so forth; however, Kill List quickly takes a sharp left turn into considerably darker territory.
It turns out Jay and Gal are ex-soldiers turned hired killers, and they’ve been licking their wounds after a botched job in Kiev. Gal convinces Jay to take another job from an odd — and frankly a little creepy– consortium of old gentlemen. They’re given a list of three people to kill, a relatively simple assignment that takes increasingly bizarre turns as it progreeses, pushing Jay’s already frayed sanity to the breaking point.
To say more would be unfair to first-time viewers. Let’s just say the mid-course genre shifting continues in the third act, a shift in gear that is startling until one looks back and sees that hints were present all along. Wheatley maintains a sense of dread and unease throughout, channeling his inner Nicholas Roeg as he shifts gears with ease from domestic disharmony to sudden bursts of shocking violence to flat-out madness.