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Kill List | Review

To the Devil….a Classic

Hot on the heels of his excellent debut, Down Terrace (2009), Brit helmer Ben Wheatley conjures up a genre melding switcheroo in Kill List. Surprisingly dense, difficult, and the most multi-layered thriller you might chance to see in some time, Wheatley’s latest is eerie, satisfying and full of creepy thrills. For those who enjoy intelligent, surprisingly well written horror films, add this to your wish list—you’ll most likely feel the need to watch it twice.

The narrative begins innocently enough in the home of Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring), his Scandinavian imported wife. Theirs is a caustic marriage and Jay has been out of work for eight months as he is most likely suffering from PTSD after a stint in the army. A darkly comic and intense dinner party scene ensues when the couple invite Jay’s best friend, Gal (Harry Simpson) and his new flame, Fiona, over to their home. We learn that Jay and Gal, supposedly in commercial sales, are actually hit men. While Gal convince Jay what he needs is to take on a new lucrative job offer, a three name kill list, Fiona engages in some bizarre behavior that heralds the strange path the narrative takes.

As Jay and Gal begin their kills, the victims (announced with title cards) seem strangely thankful to their assassins, leading Jay to act out unprofessionally and violently as more and more alarming scenarios ensue. Returning home before the list is complete, Jay finds his cat strangled and hanged at the front door, alarming his wife and son to retreat to an isolated cabin until Jay completes his job.

What begins as a buddy “hit man” black comedy delves swiftly into an ominous horror thriller, part The Wicker Man (1973) with a little The Last Exorcism (2010) or Race With the Devil (1975) thrown in. While the dialogue between Jay and Gal is easy to miss at times, the film manages to be disarming as it compels your focus on the supposed mundane. As the film crosses over into frenetic violence and foreboding happenings, the excellent soundtrack heightens the tension. When Jay begins to lose his cool, anxiety gives way to despair as events finally spiral out of control. Wheatley manages to get excellent performances from his cast, in particular the stunning MyAnna Buring as Jay’s wife, and proves he’s one of the best upcoming voices in British cinema.

Reviewed on September 17th at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – Midnight Madness Programme.

95 Mins.

Rating 4.5 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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