Retro Review: KILL LIST (2011){0}

One of the coolest things about Ben Wheatley’s debut effort, Down Terrace, was the way it forced an audience to slow down a bit, to get used to the characters and the story threads … and then pull the rug out from beneath the viewer, leaving them to marvel at the weird and darkly amusing machinations that are churning beneath the surface.

Down Terrace is, among many things, admirably unpredictable — and it’s rather cool to note that Wheatley’s sophomore follows the same blueprint, only instead of Wheatley’s dark humor being weaved through a tale of blue-collar crime, this time it’s being wound around a darkly funny and truly surprising horror tale.

Kill List is presented in three distinct but cleverly connected sections: Act I is an odd, stressful dinner party between two couples who clearly have much to hide; Act II is a deviously offbeat thriller that involves a mysterious “kill list,” and the third section is a frankly creepy and entirely effective horror flick that delves into some deep, creepy places … and does so with a fantastic amount of cleverness, restraint, and downright spookiness.

The quietly twisted screenplay (co-written by Amy Jump) is the backbone of Kill List, but it’s the collective work of the three leads who consistently sell the strange goings-on: Neil Maskell (as central character Jay) starts out as mumble-mouthed and rather craven, but he transforms into something decidedly more commanding once things take a turn for the terrible. Easily his equal is MyAnna Buning (The Descent) as a beautiful yet conniving wife, and the effortlessly watchable Michael Smiley (also seen in Down Terrace) steals scene after scene with a combination of low-key heart and subtle menace.

Also like Down TerraceKill List begins at a gradual (perhaps even languid) pace, but it’s never dull: the character development is doled out in spare but juicy portions, and Wheatley alllows his viewer to guess about the next few plot contortions — but like a canny storyteller, he knows how to yank the rug out from under us once or twice. As the flick progresses from uncomfortable character study to subtly intense crime thriller, and ultimately deep, dark horror, Kill Listshowcases a unique voice and a degree of confidence that’s actually pretty rare from a sophomore feature-maker.