Kill List (2011)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Ben Wheatley’s cryptic, loose, gory, and discombobulating sophomore feature is part kitchen-sink drama, part hit-man buddy picture, and part pagan death-cult horror movie—as though the fellas from In Bruges wandered into a version of Wicker Man directed by Mike Leigh. It revolves around Jay (Neil Maskell), an out-of-work and rageoholic assassin-qua-family man, with a Danny Torrance-looking son and an embittered marriage. For half an hour, the trio’s domestic dramas play out, but unsettling jump cuts and Jim Williams’s unnerving Penderecki-esque score suggest something amiss beyond family strife. Then Jay gets a new job.
Not unlike Jacob’s Ladder, the movie concerns former soldiers—in this case, UK Iraq War vets—inhabiting an increasingly surreal world of nocturnal visions and peculiar encounters. One popular theory on the internet is that Jay’s having coma dreams. (Could he have been incepted??) But Kill List isn’t the kind of movie you make sense of tidily; Wheatley has left it deliberately unsolvable. It could be about a mentally unstable man’s breakdown, perhaps from PTSD, perhaps from his war experience. He could be hallucinating from a fever brought on by an infected wound, or the wound itself might not be real. Or everything might be real, and just fucking weird.
What’s plain, though, is the anger and violence at the film’s core. Kill List is about how brutish professional lives can carry over into the personal—a roughness made more severe by money problems—pushing away loved ones, busting up families. Jay’s job as a soldier, for country or of fortune, ultimately costs him his family in strange, nightmarishly unpredictable ways. It’s no coincidence that the conspiracy which dooms Jay, and which is too big for him (and therefore us) to understand, involves a Member of Parliament. Emotionally, this is a movie about the effects of war on the ordinary people forced to fight it.
Opens February 3