A Morbid Bang and an Inconclusive Whimper
Kill List is sinister. It is a slow build towards a finale that will leave the audience with their mouths open and a gross feeling in the pit of their stomachs. It forces the viewer to see an unromanticized portrayal of violence as the protagonists face the consequences of their murderous lifestyle. Though the plot moves at a slow, monotonous pace, and the music muddles any attempt at suspense, the climax of the movie makes up for any low points, yet leaves a few questions unanswered.
The plot begins as the main character, Neil, struggles with finances and is at odds with his wife, Shel. The opening minutes of the movie do a great job at establishing the film’s dark tone and use omens to establish a pervading theme of death. Furthermore, a well written script demonstrates the dynamics between Neil, his wife Shel, and his friend Gal through well-acted scenes.
The writing in Kill List really shines. Neil is presented as a complex character, which is established early on when the viewer must question if his motivation to reenter a life filled with murder is for the money or to escape the dullness of life at home. Moreover, the dialogue not only displays underlying frustrations and irritations that Neil and Shel share, but also creates a believable relationship between Gal and Neil that varies from aggravation to humorous banter.
As the plot continues, Neil transforms into a loose cannon, and deals death brutally without remorse.
The violence here is graphic–very graphic–and not in an ultraviolence sense that is meant to be stylized. Instead, it is meant to remind the audience that the life of a hitman is gruesome, not romantic. It is a welcome contrast to typical crime thrillers that glorify killing and equate it to sexiness. This is not about suits and snipers, but denim and hammers. However, as graphic as the content gets, the camera never shows the gore for too long, but rather respects it for what it is and moves on.
A theme of death-obsession permeates the entire movie, from early omens of dead animals, to Neil and Gal’s gruesome actions throughout the film. The omens are not literary symbols, but function to create uneasiness and establish a morbid tone.
Underpinning the morbid motif is that of consequence and religion. Neil is an atheist, and his wife doesn’t allow grace at the dinner table. Neil even goes out of his way to confront a Christian after being irritated by his singing. His antagonism towards religion exposes a lack of guilt arising in Neil. As the body count grows, the camera focuses on a burning fire started by Neil, forcing us to contemplate hell as Neil states to his friend, “We are bad people. We should suffer”. It’s the first instance of moral guilt as Neil reflects on his actions, and makes the audience question if there is a power that exists that will offset Neil’s behavior.
The culmination of the plot is sadistic and cruel. The swelling theme of death leads Neil to an action that leaves the viewer questioning if the final moments were a result of negative karma delivering what Neil deserved, or if he has accepted his role as a killer.
The end of the movie is open to interpretation, which is both its strength and weakness. It gives room to ponder Neil’s reaction to what transpired, but the roles of minor characters are left unexplained to a point to dissatisfaction. The plot is riddled with vagueness and gives the viewer more clues than conclusions. Ultimately, the shocking finale leads to a thought-provoking discussion, while the guesswork surrounding minor characters will never be conclusive.
Kill List also seems to be at odds with itself on a few occasions, and suffers from dull pacing. The realistic gore creates a feeling of sobriety, but is undermined by the use of title cards that attempt to create a stylized, Tarantino-esque attempt at storytelling. What throws the pacing off further is that these title cards don’t designate uniform or specific chapters. Additionally, they don’t appear until well into the movie, and then subsequently come at random intervals.
The score has a hand in deflating the pace and effectively numbs the rising and falling actions of the film, hindering crucial moments from really packing a punch. While the music establishes a tone of dread early on, it rarely varies from scene to scene. What results are moments of respite that feel melodramatic, while suspenseful or exhilarating scenes are prevented from reaching a zenith.
Ultimately, Kill List’s plot moves at a steady enough pace to keep the viewer interested, despite an evenhanded score. When the plot drags or is unexplained, the audience can fall back on the good dynamic between Neil and Gal that flourishes from the dialogue. The movie doesn’t glorify or stylize violence, but instead shows the audience the truth of a murderous lifestyle. However, the title cards undercut the boldness of the gore and the surprising finale leaves more questions than answers. But despite these flaws, the ending both creates a logical, maybe deserved conclusion to the protagonists’ death-themed lifestyle and leaves room for discussion, as well as your jaw on the floor.