Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley 18 cert, Cineworld/IFI/ Screen, Dublin, 95 min
This unnerving drama runs middle-class anxieties through the shredder, writes TARA BRADY
SAVE OCCASIONAL asides and comic lampoons ( Abigail’s Party,take a bow), the middle classes have been underrepresented in British cinema. They might man the cameras and wield the megaphones, but not long after Celia Johnson quit cruising teashops, the largest, slipperiest socioeconomic group seemed to disappear from UK screens altogether.
For decades, in fact, a peculiar positive discrimination has held sway. Proper British film-makers – from Ken Loach and Mike Leigh through to Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold – concern themselves with sink estates and the disenfranchised. Conversely, people who live in Barratt Homes are confined to the telly. Their job is to live in sleepy villages with improbably high murder rates or belt out comic catchphrases in screaming class-friction sitcoms.
Over the last decade, however, a new breed of endangered bourgeois screen hero has emerged. Mostly these folks exist to articulate sheer class panic in the face of the rampaging hordes. In Eden Lake, upwardly mobile urbanites Michael Fassbender and Kerry Condon fall into the clutches of murderous chavs; Paul Andrew Williams’s salubrious Cherry Tree Lanehosts a house invasion; Jodie Whittaker gets picked on by her high-rise neighbours in Attack the Block.
You don’t have to be genteel to fall foul of underpass grotesques. Harry Brownpitches Michael Caine against drug-addled hoodies; Danny Dyer (!) gets it in Outlaw; Mum & Dadreimagines Fred and Rosemary West as Itchy and Scratchy on a housing estate, preying on migrant labourers. But “having a lovely home” can only hasten a terrible fate.
We’ve done David Lynch’s white picket fences and we’ve seen the kind of furniture stains Claude Chabrol leaves on the couch. But right now, it’s all about British suburbia and terrified suburbanites.
Kill List,the deservedly hyped second film from Brighton director Ben Wheatley, puts this discombobulating new vogue for bourgeois concerns through a mincer. The publicity material – a mysterious croppy symbol – hints at something dark and ancient, but the film’s escalating sense of dread is established long before the appearance of an external menace.
There’s something of Joanna Hogg’s polite society fictions in Wheatley’s unpicking of squabbles over itemised Tesco bills and culinary presentation. Jay (Neil Maskell), Kill List’s put-upon protagonist, and Shel (MyAnna Buring), his stressed wife, have more to contend with than dwindling savings. An ex-soldier traumatised by unspecified horrors in Kiev, Jay is cracking up on the homefront. His best friend and fellow veteran Gal (Michael Smiley) knows as much and offers Jay a nice little earner as a contract killer.
It’s not their first time out as hit men, but it is the first time that the unusually sinister client requires a signature in blood. What could possibly go wrong?
The post-Tarantino, post- Sopranosmovieverse is littered with angst-ridden gangsters and
the banalities of their everyday life. Wheatley, however, is less concerned with comic juxtaposition than evil equilibrium. We’re never sure if this is a war revenge fantasy or a Freudian nightmare, or even if what we’re seeing is reliable. The horrifying, unexpected denouement provides no real answers either.
Ultimately, Kill List’s final generic twist is rather less important than its hellish descent. Regardless of intent, it maintains a vice grip on the hapless viewer and keeps on twisting the screws.
A more malevolent and distinguished nocturne than the director’s kitchen-sink bloodbath Down Terrace, Wheatley’s sui generissophomore effort confirms him as a weasel to watch under the cocktail cabinet for.