(Ben Wheatley, 2011)
Right from the off, the score and sound design make Kill List a gruelling, intense experience. The images and narrative present us with a family in the semi-rural outer suburbs of an English City. A nice, large enough house and garden don't prevent tension between husband and wife, and they argue bitterly a couple of times in the first act, her furious at his refusal to work and bring in more money, him nursing some trauma from a mercenary job in Kiev. The style edges close to poetic realism, the dialogue semi-improvised, the performances casual and authentic-seeming.
But the soundtrack tells us that something else is going on: washes of industrial feedback seep out, prolonged mists of quietened white noise play almost subliminally, disturbing synthesiser tones and low, eerie squeals and screams echo low down in the mix. Then a supporting character casually and bafflingly carves a rune in the back of a bathroom mirror and the seed of unease is decisively sown. The film becomes a brooding hit man thriller, though one always insistent upon the banality of the World these men move in, following them as they work their way through the titular list, finding what looks like a child pornography ring and dispatching some targets in scenes of extraordinary gore and visceral impact: a hammer is taken to a skull, a face smashed in against a wall. But things get weirder and more complicated and the ending, which is built to in a few scenes of escalating terror, is a gut-wrenching horror scenario, resonant and beautiful in an awful and devastating way.
The scenes of banal domesticity early on ground the film and together with director Wheatley's intimate style - lots of handheld close-ups and obtuse cutaways to the tellingly messy details of these characters everyday environments - mean that when the later violence and horror erupt we are shaken by the way they tear into the surface of this recognisable, ordinary world. That the sound design means a sense of dread runs throughout gives the many scenes of the industrial outskirts and forgotten urban spaces a disturbing cast. Never have old lock-ups, suburban cottages and chain hotels seemed so convincingly sinister. This is a film partly about the way we can still glimpse the old, weird, pagan England peeking out around the edges of "exurbia". It's there in the protagonist cooking and eating the rabbit his cat has left slashed and dead in his back garden. And there in the shot of him in the solitary lit window of a nocturnal
travelodge, waving at the inexplicable sight of his partners ex, standing in the middle of the countryside in a dinner dress and waving at him. And there too in Wheatley's slow motion sequence of the family play-fighting in the garden, a piece of foreshadowing at its subtlest and most creepy.
Gripping, intelligently played and told, shot by a filmmaker with his own style and concerns, and finally, bleakly devastating, Kill List is a brilliant British genre film.