Much of ‘Kill List’ will be familiar to anyone who caught ‘Down Terrace’ during its brief run last year: the semi-improvised dialogue and naturalistic performances, the close, documentary-style photography and the deep-seated sense of suburban moral decay. But it’s altogether more confident: where the earlier film leavened the darker moments with slapstick and satire, ‘Kill List’ is an unrelentingly grim ride into the bleakest imaginable terrain, its only humour black beyond belief.
It begins in a quiet housing estate, where Jay (cockney shoot-’em-up veteran Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) are trying to raise their seven-year-old son amid money troubles and a faltering marriage. The arrival of Jay’s foul-mouthed colleague Gal (Michael Smiley) and his paramour Fiona (Emma Fryer) prompts a realisation: these two apparently normal working stiffs are, in fact, hired hitmen, and it’s time for them to get back to work. But who is their enigmatic new client, why does he want them to knock off a priest and what’s his connection to the mysterious Fiona?
For the first 45 minutes, this seems like a fairly standard killer-for-hire set-up. The editing and the audio palette are unusual and unsettling, the performances noticeably superior and the mood unrelentingly claustrophobic, but the plot seems to follow a predictable template. Then something happens – no clues except to say that it involves a hammer – and ‘Kill List’ takes a sharp left-turn into no man’s land.
There will be some who find the resulting series of increasingly brutal and dreamlike events hard to process, and a number of plot points remain unexplained even as the credits roll. But allow the film to take hold and its power is inescapable: the effect is like placing your head in a vice and waiting as it inexorably closes.
It’s hard to remember a British movie as nerve-shreddingly effective since ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ in 2004. Like that film, ‘Kill List’ may not make the impact it deserves upon initial release. But this is a grower, a film which lingers long in the memory: look for it on ‘Best of British’ lists for a long time to come.