Kill List (review)

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Neil Maskell Kill List yellow light

It’s entirely possible that nothing that happens after the first twenty minutes or so or Kill List is taking place anywhere outside the protagonist’s head. Something went wrong in Kiev, on professional killer Jay’s (Neil Maskell: It’s All Gone Pete Tong) last job, and perhaps he hasn’t quite recovered from it. Perhaps it went even wronger than we suspect. But the “It’s all Jay’s descent into madness” explanation is not a really satisfying out for what is an equally intriguing and frustrating cinematic experience. The disjointed nightmare quality Brit indie filmmaker Ben Wheatley achieves here is more than brutal in a visceral way, though it is that: the sensitivities of Jay and his partner, Gal (Michael Smiley: The Other Boleyn Girl), hit with a surprising force, and are often followed immediately by violence that turns our stomachs, a deliberate mismatch that is unsettling. But Wheatley is also playing with narrative context — and lack thereof — as well: part of the horror comes from the paucity of clues we get as to just what constitutes the new job Jay and Gal have taken on, who their victims are and why they react in such extraordinary ways finding themselves face to face with death, and what the killings are ultimately in aid of. Our confusion becomes its own sort of disquiet. Wheatley can be clever — he turns the scream of a teakettle into something horrific — but too often veers into the self-indulgent, hauling out outlandish visions merely because they are outlandish, regardless of how well they work as part of a whole. With the help of coscreenwriter Amy Jump, Wheatley and his improvising cast — which includes MyAnna Buring (Doctor Who) as Jay’s wife and Emma Fryer as Gal’s new girlfriend — are admirably ambitious in their reach, but their grasp isn’t quite as grand.

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