By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Published: February 2, 2012
Following up his impressive 2010 debut, “Down Terrace,” with something altogether more implacable and strange, the British director Ben Wheatley has gained confidence in his handling of male violence and domestic distress. That assured style is the spackle that holds “Kill List” together: when the plot doglegs into insanity, and the characters follow suit, this brutal fever dream refuses to fall apart.
Ben Wheatley/IFC Films
Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell in “Kill List.”
Months after a mysterious, botched assignment in Kiev, two former army types are picking up the pieces. The moody, volatile Jay (Neil Maskell) is working out his kinks in screaming rows with his Swedish-born wife (MyAnna Buring), while the easygoing Gal (Michael Smiley) urges him to accept another job. With money running low and a young son to feed, Jay agrees, though not until we meet their new employer, and he slices Jay’s palm to seal the deal, do we understand what the men have signed up for.
Though undercooked and a little baffling, “Kill List” compels with a dreamy approach to violence that infuses everyday situations — a spousal tiff or an informal dinner party — with undercurrents of pulsing claustrophobia. Evil stalks these characters, from within and without, though what it might look like we only gradually discover. When we do, we are not completely satisfied: why is Gal’s new girlfriend (Emma Fryer) drawing strange symbols on the back of the bathroom mirror? And why is a priest so grateful to be facing a bullet?
Delving into horror, psychodrama and religious rot, the unconventional script (by Mr. Wheatley and Amy Jump), idiosyncratic editing and vérité photography somehow cohere. The film’s title may draw you in, but it’s the texture that keeps you watching.