Kill List (2011)

Rating: C+

Dir: Ben Wheatley
Star: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Struan Rodger

I’ve no problem with movies that meld genres, but this feels less than a seamless mix than two different films spliced together by accident. Jay (Maskell) has a stressful marriage to Shel (Buring); he hasn’t worked for a while, and the family’s cash is running out. His longtime mate, Gal (Smiley), comes over with his girlfriend for a dinner party, which ends strangely and badly, but Gal convinces Jay to go on another job with him. We discover that the two are contract killers, and have been hired to kill three targets in various spots. However, as soon as they go under way, things start to get even stranger, in part because of Jay’s fragile mental state.

The first target thanks the killer for bringing death, and the second appears to know not just who Jay is, but some murky details from the past. He charges off in pursuit, with Gal trying to restrain his friend. But it’s only when they start scouting out their third target, a member of Parliament on his country estate, that things slip from strange into completely bizarre. This is probably the kind of film where it’s better that you go into it not knowing too much. We hadn’t really heard a lot about it, beyond some good reports. The first two-third or so live up to this, creating an unsettling atmosphere that may not make a great deal of sense, but is undeniably creepy in its obscurity. For instance, why does Gal’s girlfriend go into Jay’s bathroom, take the mirror down, scrawl a cryptic symbol on the back, then hang it back up?

It plays like a sinister version of In Bruges with the cheerful Gal trying to rein in the excesses of his partner as Jay disintegrates into paranoia and madness. Unfortunately, the movie eventually makes an effort to explain itself, and this is a great deal less successful than when everything was shrouded in mystery. I use the word “effort”, because what you get is more excuse than explanation, and we never learn anything about the motivation of those involved. Was it just a really badly-thought out practical joke? That’d make as much sense as anything the film offers, amd it’s a shame.