Sunday, April 17, 2016

Somewhere in England: "The Kill List" (2011)

Mark my words: Ben Wheatley is going to be a big name in horror. The fortysomething director has already achieved indie darling success, but I believe that he'll be a major player this year. Why? Because I've seen The Kill List

Yet another standard-bearer for the new breed of transatlantic horror (you'd read that article, wouldn't ya?), The Kill List is a methodical, quiet examination of building dread. A slow burn, the majority of this film is a chronicle of Jay (played by Neil Maskell) and Shel (played by MyAnna Buring) and their declining marriage. Before the film's action begins, we are told that Jay hasn't worked in eight months. This is because his last gig, which took place in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, went way south. Since Jay is a hitman, one can only imagine how bad the job went. 

Jay's fellow death dealer Gal (played by Michael Smiley) shows up one night in order to convince Jay to join him on a new job. In truth, Shel, who is the group's booker, talked to the Irishman Gal and convinced him to pull Jay into the job. Jay is initially hesitant, but after his boorish behavior ruins a dinner party (which leads to a whale of an argument with Shel), he comes around to the idea of killing new people for money. 

Unbeknownst to everyone, Gal's girlfriend Fiona (played by Emma Fryer) scratches a mysterious symbol on the back of one of Jay and Shel's mirrors. If you've seen The Blair Witch Project, then you have a good idea of what this symbol looks like. This is far from Fiona's weirdest moment, for while Jay and Gal are out doing wet work, Fiona makes herself comfortable in Jay and Shel's home. Add in the fact that Gal and Fiona breakup early on in the film and you a pretty precise idea of why Fiona is straight out of the heebie jeebies catalog. 

Fiona isn't the only oddity in The Kill List. Jay and Gal's employer, a bloke known simply as "the client" (played by Struan Rodger), is the silent-in-a-suit type who likes to sign contracts in blood. This is Jay and Gal's first tipoff that this won't be the usual job. The next few tipoffs come when they actually start knocking people dead. Their first target, a Roman Catholic priest (played by Gareth Tunley), thanks Jay before the Protestant Englishman whacks him. That's odd, but when the next victim, a pedophile (played by Mark Kempner) with what one assumes to be an entire library of kiddie smut, does the same thing while Jay is systematically breaking his fingers with a hammer, Jay and Gal decide that maybe the job isn't worth it. 

Too late. Not only does the client say "No way," but by this point Jay has already gone off the deep end. As a father, Jay cannot stomach the idea of pedophiles running around the Jolly Old. Because of this, he looses his professionalism and starts torturing anyone associated with the kill list. It's an ugly affair and it almost destroys Jay and Gal's friendship. The client's refusal, along with his offer to increase Jay and Gal's salary, keeps the partnership going for at least one more kill. This time around Jay and Gal are gunning for a Member of Parliament. 

In a country where pedophiles have replaced witches and devil worshippers as Public Enemy No. 1 (pedophile politicians are particularly loathed), it makes sense that Jay and Gal would put away an MP. However, not long after settling into a stakeout position on the MP's palatial manor house, Jay and Gal witness a bizarre procession. Half the people are in wicker masks, while almost all are nude. The parade is lit by torchlight, while the musical accompaniment is reminiscent of the Celtic strains of yore. Disturbingly, Jay and Gal watch the ceremony all the way to its climax, which involves a ritual suicide. 

Finally well beyond his limit of tolerance, Jay opens fire on the gathering. This sets in motion a horrific and bloody chase that winds up in a darkened sewer. These scenes are not fit for the claustrophobic, nor the gore-shy. Suffice it to say that only one of the assassins makes it out alive. The other winds up holding his own guts. 

The chase does not end here, however. Jay (spoiled it; not sorry) retreats to a summer house with his son Sam (played by Harry Simpson) and Shel. The cult members follow him there and lay siege to the house. Jay decides to go on the offensive and follows the freaks into the night. Shel tries to defend the house, but the cult members prove too numerous. Both her and Jay are captured and are forced to perform one of the cult's death rituals. I promise I won't give away the big reveal, but I will tell you that Fiona, the client, and few others have been in the cult all along. It was, for a lack of a better word, a setup. 

The Kill List often garners comparisons to The Wicker Man, the Citizen Kane of Brit horror. Both films deal with mystery cults that exist in modern Britain, and both films put their protagonists through the gauntlet. Without question, The Kill List belongs to the same ancestral tree as The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan's Claw. The Kill List is also an indie film and aware of it. Whereas The Wicker Man and others were incredible features masquerading as B-movie pulp, The Kill List is the intentional marriage of the art film with grotesque horror. While not entirely novel, The Kill List is a superb thriller that never once allows its audience to be comfortable. You've been warned. 

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