From the off director Ben Wheatley creates a very disturbing atmosphere in this film. It’s not just the dark subject matter that makes it such uncomfortable viewing. It’s just hard to tell where the story is heading.
Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) are a pair of soldiers-turned-hitmen. A mysterious client supplies them with the eponymous kill list - three targets - for which they are handsomely paid. They hit the road to take care of business and the job grows increasingly bizarre with each murder. As does Jay’s mental state.
This is an inventive cross-pollination of genres. What, effectively, starts as suburban drama in Jay’s family home takes a hop, step and then leap into the realms of weirdness. It’s all fantastically disconcerting. The acting is naturalistic and the dialogue authentic. The setting is not obviously cinematic. The protagonists’ tour of motorways and nondescript hotels under a consistently grey sky is unglamorous and unmistakably British. With many a colloquialism and national references (e.g. Jeremy Beadle) the script is uncompromising in its Britishness. This makes it all the more creepy – it simply feels very real. It’s not the prettiest of films and I couldn’t honestly describe any of it as “spectacle” but it does have an extremely unnerving mood throughout. It’s also built around a strong idea. Wheatley scripted the film with his wife, the appropriately-monikered Amy Jump, and generously credits the actors with Additional Dialogue due to the amount of improvisation.
For any budding film-makers this will undoubtedly serve as inspiration for what you can achieve on a shoestring. Impressively shot for just half a million quid Ben Wheatley proves that a good script is what counts the most. Well, that and good performances. Maskell is genuinely scary as the mindless thug struggling to hold it together and Smiley, who I’d previously only known as “Tyres” in Spaced achieves good chemistry with his best friend and brother in arms. Wheatley’s debut feature Down Terrace – a domestic tale of gangster life - was shot for an even more absurd figure (£6000, Wheatley claims). It’s a different kind of film but if you enjoy Kill List then I recommend you check it out. These types of budget constraints actually lend themselves to the story – what may have been glossier with more money (in both films), manifests in the shape of gritty realism.