kill list blu-rayBen Wheatley’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut Down Terrace is another tale of domestic dysfunction albeit with a wicked twist which, when combined with the brutal performances from its three stars, culminates in one of the most unusual and harrowing British horror films in recent years.

Much has been made of Kill List in the last year, and with good reason. We saw the film in SXSW at the start of 2011 and there was a genuine feeling that Wheatley had crafted something special, and after a successful cinematic run now the film finds its way onto DVD and Blu-ray.

I sat down to the film in amidst the festive season, when family and goodwill to all men was in the air, and quickly wished I had waited until the bright lights had been brought down and the dour turn of January was in full swing. I had also heard a lot of good things about the film, with its prominence of various top tens of the year making it an enticing prospect, yet the nightmare which unfolded was unlike anything I could have expected, and the power of the film relies heavily on subverting your expectations before pushing you off a cliff you had no idea you were walking towards.

This being the case it’s worth saying that I will hint as spoilers in this review and if you haven’t seen the film yet I’d advise you to do so knowing as little as possible so before I dive in my recommendation is simple – it’s a fantastic film and worth your time. Just don’t expect to be light-hearted afterwards – this is a film which finds its way under your skin and will drag you down for days after. It marks Wheatley as a director of ambition and ability, and slowly he is building a solid reputation for delivering the unexpected in a fearless fashion.

ostensibly Kill List is about two ex-army personnel finding work, and finding their feet after their return home, on the wrong side of the law. Neil Maskell and Micheal Smiley put in fantastic performances as Jay and Gal, giving their characters a complicated and believable relationship and their fights, as much as their dependence on each other, endear them to us and draw us into their bleak world though, to Wheatley’s credit, we are never complicit with their actions until the true nature of the titular Kill List becomes apparent. MyAnna Buring is exceptional as Jay’s wife, whose support of her husband’s work is one of the many intriguing elements which keep us off-balance throughout, and the partly improvised scenes have a stark realism to them which is magnetic.

The film plays like a nightmare which gains a terrible momentum as it changes trajectory from the brutal tale of a pair of assassins for hire to an occult thriller and at no point does the attention waver. This is an intense film; nowhere else would you find shades of Mike Leigh mixed in with David Lynch and yet Kill List blends the unending nightmare of Lost Highway with the domestic timebomb of Secrets and Lies with aplomb before throwing us into the world of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and the terrible occult world of Robin Hardy’s seminal 1973 horror film, and yet the combination of these elements never feels forced. This is much more than The Wicker-Hitman.

The violence is sudden and sickening, the building rage of Maskell’s Jay is given brutal release as the names are crossed off of the list, and as the job begins to take a bizarre turn we find that we, like the two men, are caught up in an uncontrollable downward spiral and as the final act plays out there are shocks and an awful, retina-scarring ending which will stay with you.

Hard to enjoy but easy to recommend, Kill List is worthy of the praise it has garnered. The three central performances never stray from complete faithful support of a story which is brilliantly told by Wheatley and the extras on the disc (commentaries and interviews with the director, writer and cast) underline the love and dedication to the film which is tangible in every frame.

See it, simple as that.