They are bad people. They should suffer.
I don’t send them solicitor’s letters.
I was once asked by a girlfriend why it was that I was watching a particular movie for something like the 40th time. The answer seemed obvious to me, but it seems that some people fail to understand. Would you look at a van Gogh painting once and once only?
Imagine buying an album by a band you love. You play it once and you never listen to it again. Unlikely, I’m sure you’ll agree. You will play it, as we used to say, until the grooves wear out. For me, film is the same. I will gladly watch a film fifty, sixty, seventy times. Performance. Get Carter. Stalker. Apocalypse Now. Naked. Casino. Orphee. All films I have seen at least fifty times and would happily watch another fifty. 2011’s Kill List is one such film.
Directed by Ben Wheatley, who also directed Down Terrace – which I have not seen – and the extraordinary A Field in England, Kill List is the story of two ex-servicemen turned hit men. After a botched operation in Kiev, they are offered a job to execute three men. Their mysterious client pays them well, but the job becomes darker and more dangerous than they had bargained for.
The film develops with an eerie relentlessness. It is supported by a moral framework familiar to most movie-goers; bad guys who do good things. But it is punctuated with dreamlike moments of sinister portent. The scene in the doctor’s office in which Jay visits to have his slashed-open hand seen to is extraordinary.
England is made to look exactly as it is, ugly with occasional beauty. The camera work is jerky and realistic. Scenes move unevenly, but the lack of balance is intentional, the bleeding of the soundtrack across scene cuts deliberately disorienting. The central figures are deeply flawed men, stumbling, drinking and joking their way through their doomed and dark odyssey. As Jay begins to lose control, going at his work of execution ‘like a Hackney crackhead’, so the film itself begins to split and rupture.
If you know something about the structure of film screenplays, you will know that after 23 minutes you should have your first plot point, an incident, speech or occurrence that sets up the action to come. The power of Kill List lies in the first plot point, involving a girl at a dinner party who uses the bathroom. It hardly sounds enthralling, I grant you, but it is what she does in the bathroom that insists that you watch this film more than once. If you don’t re-watch it, it simply doesn’t make sense. I didn’t get close to grasping the film until about the fourth time of watching.
There is not a musical soundtrack to the film, in the usual sense of the term. A kind of orchestral white noise buzzes and rings about, and it ramps up the tension quite brilliantly.
The acting performances are incredible. In this age of talentless halfwits such as De Caprio and Pitt, we forget how difficult it is to portray the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Neil Maskell will be recognisable from various British films, and Michael Smiley – his partner in crime – is a brilliant actor.
The cross-cutting is fractured and disjointed, with some scenes functioning as strange non-sequiturs adding to the steady creep of terror the film produces. There are truly dreadful scenes. The killing of the librarian is one of the most stark filmic episodes I have ever seen. As the young people say on social media, you can’t unsee it.
I can’t recommend Kill List highly enough. It’s the most inventive hitman movie I know, with an undercurrent of pure, metaphysical evil. Students of the occult will find much to interest them here. The film is riddled with clues and suggestions, and this is why it is not a film you can see once and only once. It is reminiscent, in curious ways, of The Wicker Man. The burst of extreme violence at the film’s climax recalls the orgiastic insanity of Taxi Driver and Straw Dogs.
Under no circumstances watch this film with a young person. It is shatteringly violent, and I still find one of the scenes difficult to sit through even at the tenth time of asking. A child who watched Kill List would be psychologically scarred for life. The last 20 minutes still haunt me, and I don’t care what I watch.
I believe it was Ian McKewan who said that in a society that is deeply troubled, its art – he was obviously talking about the novel – should reflect that disturbance at a fundamental level. So it is with film, the politicised, globalist crap that Hollywood churns out notwithstanding. McKewan went to my old university, Sussex, and allegedly began writing short stories to relieve the boredom of the courses he took. Boredom is the greatest enemy of the modern West, and sometimes it spits out art which makes one realise just how fractured and dysfunctional the modern world is.
If you care about film, you would not want to miss out on Kill List. If you do watch it, I hope you sleep tight afterwards.