Kill List

Complex indie horror film leaves Gerard Brennan admiring and confused. Admiringly confused?

Kill List is a British independent flick starring Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley as a pair of ex-soldiers turned hit men.

Jay (Maskell) has been out of ‘work’ for eight months and it’s taking a toll on his marriage. When his friend, Gal (Smiley), comes to him with word of a job, Jay takes it on reluctantly as a means to appease his wife.

The battle-hardened pair take up a mysterious offer from a wealthy old man. By the time they realise that they’ve gotten involved in something much more than a straightforward hit, it’s too late to back out of the job. They have no choice but to see it through, no matter what the cost.

British gangster flicks sponsored by the UK Film Council seem to be ten a penny these days, so a film that deviates from the well-worn genre can only be welcome.

Kill List’s genre classification lies somewhere between hardman thriller and psychological horror. It looked to be something a bit remarkable but, after a fumble in the third act, didn’t quite hit the mark.

Maskell (vaguely familiar but hard to place without the aid of IMDB) and Smiley (is this really the same shaven-headed stand-up comic from Belfast who showed up in a couple of episodes of Spaced?!) do an outstanding job in their roles. Their onscreen chemistry make them a highly believable duo set to rival any Hollywood tough-guy bromance.

Smiley, as you would expect from a stand-up, provides oodles of comic relief as the film goes from Brit grit to gore-fest at a breakneck speed. Maskell’s forte is that of the wild-eyed lunatic with a surprisingly decent core. The supporting cast is also well-chosen and...supportive.

The film’s score is odd. It seems to be employed to let the audience know that they’re watching a horror flick as it trundles through a baggy first act. It has a seventies sound, reminiscent of the fingernails-down-the-chalkboard music, used to set the mood in countless movies about Satanism.

It’s a little overenthusiastic and tends to intrude on the film rather than enhance it. Like a hyper puppy, it pops up at some pretty inappropriate places. In a scene where a hit is to take place in a church it plays over a congregation of pensioners as they sing a hymn. The scene would have been made more powerful if the hymn itself was played.

The ending deserves some kudos for a nicely played twist, but once the credits roll the head scratching begins. The denouement seems to come out of nowhere in a frantic rush to shock the audience and as a result it leaves far too many questions unanswered. 'But what about…?'

There’s also a scene with a hammer and a librarian early on in the film that relishes shock-horror gore a little too much. It seems out of place until the insanity of that final twenty minute takes over.

Kill List is a good movie. The acting is excellent, the dialogue crackles and the setting works perfectly with the tone of the movie. The scenes of domestic disharmony ring true and there’s so much conflict throughout the movie that the handful of jokes peppered throughout the script do a wonderful job of drawing out nervous laughter. Yet, if it had a tighter first act and made a little more effort to tie things up in the third act, it could have been a brilliant movie.

Kill List is at Queen's Film Theatre from September 23 to 29. For more information on films and events check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide.