I’m sorry to say I had high expectations before going to see Kill List. I’m sorry because my expectations were not met. Which is too bad because the film deserves more consideration for what it does accomplish rather than to be remembered for what it does not. However, this is difficult when the very cool looking movie poster promises a gut-wrenching-hit-man-thriller. Unfortunately, the film does not live up to this hyperbole. Which is sad, because without knowing the hype one could actually enjoy Kill List for its actual merits, such as an unusual story full of interesting surprises that catch you off guard like a well-placed punch to the arm. It won’t leave you reeling, but it definitely leaves you with an unsettling feeling after you leave the theater.
One of the big faults to Kill List is that the first twenty minutes or so deals with some rather boring and mundane problems of a small family living in the suburbs of England. Apparently the man of the house, Jay has had problems with his job and is having difficulty getting back to work. It’s a nice twist when you discover what it is he does for a living, but then you already suspect that from the movie poster, so the twenty minute build up falls incredibly flat. The intriguing concept of a hit man having problems getting back behind the trigger works well on its own, and an audience who is in the know is anxious for the rest of the promotional promises to be fulfilled. Bring on the gut-wrenching chills already!
Those chills previously referred to don’t arrive until the story really begins to take shape when our “hero” finally goes back to work. It seems that Jay (Neil Maskell) is very good at his job, but has a tendency to go overboard on thoroughness. This places his best friend and colleague, Gal in the uncomfortable position of being the voice of reason when things begin to go terribly wrong due to Jay’s inability to restrain his penchant for extreme violence. Gal, played by Michael Smiley (whose performance is the highlight of the film) does his best to contain Jay, but each kill from the assigned list is more brutal than the last, escalating into a veritable blood bath.
The most interesting and unexpected twist comes when the partners are camping out on the estate of their final target. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s really quite strange and causes the movie to take an abrupt, if not jolting left turn into horror. It’s a turn that has been set up much earlier in the story through Jay’s home life as well as within the environs of his current employer, but the indications are so subtle it’s impossible to make any sense of them ahead of time. I believe this is meant to be part of the mystique of the film, but I found these moments to be distracting since they happen long before the movie has made its transition into its final form.
In the end Jay is forced to face his personal demons in a very real and tangible way that results in a confrontation that is unthinkably cruel. And although the ending is imaginative, it isn’t in the least bit surprising as the scenario is predicted long before the final conflict. Ultimately Kill List falls short of its ambitious intentions. For all its shocking violence and unusual plot devices it just doesn’t add up to the gut-wrenching-hit-man-thriller it so eagerly wants to be. Which is too bad, because if it had just tried to be an interesting story about a stressed out hit man trying to get his groove back who turns violence into an art, I think I could have really enjoyed it.