by Glenn Lovell
The much-anticipated British thriller “Kill List” opens mid-shouting match, like a kitchen-sink drama starring Ray Winstone or the angry young Albert Finney of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.” Shel (MyAnna Buring) has had it to here with her lay-about husband Jay (Neil Maskall), who’s been out of work for eight months with no job in sight. Jay, an Iraqi war veteran, blames his tricky back; Shel fires back that it’s “all in your head.” Young son Sammy (Harry Simpson) retreats to his room to drown out the familiar ruckus.
Then best mate Gal (Michael Smiley) and his porcelain pretty new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) pop in for a feed and things settle down. For a sec. Gal, obviously used to the fireworks, referees, and eventually convinces Jay to come out of retirement. “How many?” Jay asks. “Three ‒ not too many,” Gal replies, sensing he’s making progress.
It’s here that writer-director Ben Wheatley springs the first of several unnerving surprises. Jay and Gal, we finally deduce, are contract killers. And Shel, no self-deceiving Carmela Soprano, is in on the secret: She wants her husband to get off his duff and do what he does best, when he isn’t telling Sammy bedtime stories about IEDs and reconnaissance missions.
OK, big deal, I can hear you grousing ‒ just one more grisly U.K. crime drama. Ah, not exactly. Wheatley has something more diabolical up his blood-soaked sleeve. “Kill List,” now available on PPV, is a brazen mix of Brit-Grit, “Pulp Fiction” and “The Wicker Man.” Jay and Gal’s white-haired client turns out to be a cult leader and, before they know it, they’re up to their necks in blood sacrifices and dutiful targets (a priest, a librarian, a member of Parliament) who thank their assassins.
Like the self-righteous Sgt. Howie in “Wicker Man,” Jay and Gal are being groomed for some satanic funny business. Gal’s religiosity will come into play, so too will Jay’s sadistic tendencies. And once they realize they’re cogs in a Poe-like machine, it’s too late. All roads lead to the subterranean labyrinth.
Ben Wheatley does his namesake, master of the black arts Dennis Wheatley, proud. His second feature is definitely fated for horror cult-dom. It’s exploitation filmmaking of a very high order, a film that not only stands up under repeat viewings, but demands them. The black cat at the family table and the game of knights in the backyard take on whole new connotations the second time around.
But be forewarned: This one’s not only bloody entertaining, it’s bloody, period.
KILL LIST With Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley. Directed by Ben Wheatley; scripted by Wheatley, Amy Jump. 95 min. Unrated (contains profanity, nudity, shooting violence, extended torture sequence)