Kill List Review

Somewhere in humdrum suburbia, two hitmen take on a new job…

The Film

Kill List is Ben Wheatley’s second feature after the rather enjoyable Down Terrace of a couple of years ago. In his shortish career so far, Wheatley’s interest has moved from weak digital channel sitcoms to homespun gangsters, now onto haunted hit-men. He has specialised in humdrum illegality and the suburban routines which go on around the dubious work his characters do. It would be reductive but not inaccurate to describe his work as not unlike Mike Leigh does genre.In Kill List, two former squaddies perpetuate their friendship and suburban lives by doing “jobs” for shady businessmen. Jay has a young kid and a beautiful wife and is collapsing in on himself, terrified of the violence he has done and seen and compelled to do more in order to support the people he loves. Sam, his older wiser partner, attempts to keep him on the rails with diminishing success.

Like Down Terrace, the claustrophobia of domestic life is a principle concern in the film’s opening 40 minutes. Structurally there are other similarities with unexplained traumas of the past – here “Kiev”, there it was the unspecified crime of the son – and both films include an evolution to a new world as part of the conclusion. Most importantly, there is a really intense sense of integrity and dimension to the characters that marks Wheatley’s realistic underplayed style.Technically, the production values have increased and this enables the violence to be much more explicit and believable as Jay and Sam start ticking off the names on their list. The writing has also developed with the narrative competently managing the switching of sympathies as the full unpleasantness of our hit-men first becomes apparent before they become the hunted as the film builds to an end. I would summarise my comparison between his two features by saying that whilst Down Terrace was a successful experiment, Kill List is a much more satisfying work.

Viewers of Kill List will make their own comparisons with other films, and I hope that they also appreciate that Wheatley’s work has not only improved internally but also with respect to the films that seem to have inspired it. It’s hard not to think of Man Bites Dog, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Wicker Man whilst watching, and I would say that Kill List sits very proudly in those works company.What Kill List does is to thoroughly unsettle you. When it is not humanising murderers, exploring wretched morality and uncovering the nastier secrets of your potential neighbours, the film is suggesting how inevitable our fates will be. So see it as a hit-man thriller, or a gritty psychological portrait or as a modern horror story, but do yourself a favour and see it. There is evidence here of a great film-making talent and you should watch Kill List as one of the best films of 2011.

Technical specs

The feature is presented at 2.35:1 using a frame rate of 23.98 per second and given a file-size of 26.4 GB on this dual layer region B coded disc. This is a very decent transfer with super detail, well judged sharpness and nicely balanced colour. The most impressive visual moments are provided in near darkness and the contrast is nigh impeccable throughout. A couple of lossless options are provided with the 5.1 master audio track being well mixed with plenty of coverage across all of the channels and a great sense of dimension in the subterranean and night-time scenes. If you’ve got a surround system this is definitely the option to choose above the LPCM stereo mix. Thoughtfully the disc includes an audio descriptive track and hard of hearing subs.


The feature comes with two commentaries, one from the director and his co-writer and wife, Amy Jump and another from the three leading actors (Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley). Wheatley and wife are very much in love and despite some well meaning jokes and knowing references to commentaries, it’s the actor commentary which is far more fun. Smiley and Maskell are clearly great friends and the latter is very funny, but all three are having a great time and provide entertaining company for the viewer – “Pastry is the enemy”.

Maskell and Buring are in less impressive form in a short interview where they explain they met Wheatley when he did The Wrong Door for the BBC. They are followed by an interview with the producers which is far from memorable as well. A short featurette of behind the scenes footage is included as a making of featurette.

HD trailers for other Optimum/Studio Canal product complete the extras.


A terrific second film and one of the best British films in some time gets a decent HD transfer and a good commentary.

John White

Updated: Dec 18, 2011

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Kill List Review | The Digital Fix