Kill List (2011): Keeping Death in the Family

Written by husband/wife team Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump and directed by Wheatley, Kill List is a tour de force of dark unsettling images and sounds. From the very first frame, the film disturbs the viewer. Despite a fair sprinkling of black humour, an overpowering feeling of evil and doom fill every moment of the film.

Neil Maskell is Jay, an ex-soldier who has become partners with his old army buddy Gal (Michael Smiley) together they work as hitmen. Jay’s wife shel (Myanna Burning) is also part of the business, setting up contacts and contracts. She also sorts out lodgings for the lads when they are on a job.

At the beginning of the film we are privy to the discord in Jay and Shel’s life. He has not worked in eight months and the money that was set aside (40,000 pounds) is gone. Jay and Shel argue a lot and their son Sam (Harry Simpson) takes Shel’s side. She is adamant that Jay get back together with Gal for another contract hit.

We can see that they have an opulent lifestyle and by the amount of money that they’ve gone through in an eight month time period that money does not last too long in their house. Jay is on medication for a back problem that Shel says is in his head.

Fiona and Jay, before the crockery goes flying.

Gal comes over with a new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) for dinner. After a meal that culminates in Jay throwing a fit and scattering all the dishes to the floor, Gal tries to convince Jay to take on the contract with him because the money is good. Although Jay is angry about Gal and Shel going behind his back, he concedes.

The “kill list” consists of three men and when Gal and Jay meet their contact he seals the deal with his and Jay’s blood. The “hit” is on and the men go to kill their first victim.

This film has an underlying tension to it that oozes through every scene. The score is intrusive and has the effect of not only setting the atmosphere and the pace of the film but of deadening the dialogue between the characters. This combination makes the whole thing seem off-kilter, odd, and very ominous.

The score also has a fuzzy feeling to it, like you are hearing a low-pitched background roaring sound through cotton padding. This adds to the foreboding and aids the various set points of the film.

You get the feeling that none of this is going to go well for any of the participants. Events in the film, serpentine in and out causing the viewer to get lost if they are not careful; reality becomes blurred at one point in the film. The two men are hidden spectators to a strange ceremony. When the men make their presence known, the participants chase them and the accompanying noises sound like a combination of animal growls and pigs screaming. It is unsettling and scary as hell.

One of the ceremonial participants.

The film “feels” dark and each hit gets darker. The fact that each victim seems to recognise Jay disturbs him and starts affecting his job performance. There are reverences to Kiev and a job that the lads did that went wrong somehow. At one point Gal mumbles to himself that Jay is acting like he did in Kiev. This is never explored and left up to the viewer to imagine what went on.

The characters are not completely fleshed out in order for them to raise more questions than they answer. This has the added effect of keeping the viewer guessing as to what is going on with Jay. He is clearly the one with issues carried over from their past “mission.”

Gal’s girlfriend Fiona is a personnel resources specialist, whose job is to cut the fat from poorly performing organizations. Despite the fact that she breaks up with Gal, she visits Shel often and on the night of the dinner party puts a strange mark on the back of the bathroom mirror. She also takes a tissue with Jay’s blood on it.

Kill List has been compared to The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General, two  classic British horror films. Not a bad comparison as this film has all the hallmarks of a first-rate horror film thriller that will disturb you and will have you discussing it long after you’ve watched it.

I watched the film twice and found that Wheatley telegraphed his ending early on in the film. I take my hat off to him and the cast, who performed brilliantly, for what is one of the best English horror films that I have seen in ages.

I owe a special thanks to Darran over at foxiecinnamon for blogging about this film and bringing it to my attention. Good one mate.

Gal and Jay (Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell) hitmen together.

Doghouse (2009): She’s a Man Eater

I had no real intention of watching this film, but after talking to Darran over at foxxiecinnamon’s blog about the film Kill List and Neil Maskell (who I said made me think of a “posh-er” Danny Dyer); Darran said that the two had worked together in the film Doghouse and here we are.

I decided I needed to give the film a go and I’m glad I did. I rather unfairly judged it before I watched it; thinking that it would be yet another rip-off of Shaun of the Dead.

I was wrong.

It was another variation of a theme. Zombies in rural England, but with a difference; these zombies were women and part of a military experiment that made them faster and smarter as the virus mutated. Of course the biggest difference was that our “heroes” travelled to the zombies. They just didn’t turn up on their proverbial doorstep.

Directed by Jake West (Evil Aliens) who is better known in the industry as a documentary film maker and editor and written by Dan Shaffer who appears to have just started in the business; the film is a “buddy picture” where we follow a group of London lads who have planned a long-weekend of fun for their recently divorced mate.

The lads find out that Moodly is not the place to be for a night out.

The cast list is impressive:

Stephen Graham (This is England, Boardwalk Empire)

Danny Dyer (The Football Factory, The Business)

Noel Clark (AdULTHOOD, KiDULTHOOD)

Emil Warwa (East is East, West is West)

Christina Cole (Casino Royale, Hex)

Terry Stone (Rollin’ with the Nines, Bonded by Blood)

Neil Maskell (Kill List, Basic Instinct 2)

Plus a long list of other familiar English actors.

The plot centres on Vince (Graham) and his six mates. Vince is getting divorced and it has crushed the life out of him. His mates are all in relationships that have gone sour (except for Neil (Dyer) who thinks he is God’s gift to women and brags that women cannot resist him) who band together to get Vince out of London.

Mikey (Clark) has set the group up to spend a long weekend at Moodly, where the women outnumber the men 4 to 1. The plan is to get drunk (aka hammered), get laid, and for Vince to re-discover his love of life. As the men wait for Banksy (Maskell) their driver show up.

The driver, a woman called Ruth, (Cole) says it is time to go and Neil dubs her Candy. She accepts the “temporary” name change and they leave without Banksy assuming  that he will catch up with them later. On the way, Candy asks why on earth the lads want to go to Moodly. She describes it as a place at the end of the road and a real dump with no redeeming features.

They arrive at theMoodly public car park and the place looks deserted. They get out and Mikey goes to his Nan’s house which is being redecorated while she is on holiday and the lads intend to stay there for the weekend. The rest go to the pub but Patrick goes back to the bus to get Candy and their gear, which includes a bag of their mobile phones.

Neither Candy nor Ruth are up for visitors on the bus.

After waiting to be served in the pub and not seeing any bar staff, they all go outside. A teenage female “hoodie” attacks them and a soldier comes out of nowhere brandishing a huge knife and he tries to stab the girl. The men fight him off and he is trying to explain that things aren’t what they seem.

After they incapacitate him, the teenage girl’s face is revealed and her features are grey, drawn and savage. Her eyes are red and she is clearly not normal. While taking this in, more women appear all in varying forms of “zombie-like” appearance. Running back to the bus the lads find that Candy has now turned into a zombie and they cannot get back on.

This film was entertaining and it did pay a little homage to other films in the genre. Some of the men dress as women to fool the female zombies a la Shaun of the Dead’s zombie masquerade. A few other nods and winks were scattered through the film.

It is fast paced and Dyer seemed to enjoy playing a part that poked fun at his usual roles. All the actors did a good job although they did have a tendency to “mug-it-up” a bit. Most of them, though, played it straight and that helped to sell the film.

Neil Maskell as Banksy has less screen time than anyone in the main cast with only the odd cameo role being shorter. Still as a last-minute possible rescuer he did well. The film ended on an amusing cliff hanger and the laughs, though not of the belly shaking variety did keep coming.

Stereotypes were catered to and used to a good extent though the entire film and despite the fictional village of Moodly looking like a fictional village the film works overall. Most of the female zombies wore high-heeled “hooker” shoes and used “female” weapons, with the exception of the axe welding “bride.”

If you don’t expect Shakespeare or a serious message film, you will most likely enjoy Doghouse. It is available on Netflix and definitely worth a look.

Zombie golf, coming to a village near you.