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Film / Kill List

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Kill List is a 2011 British thriller/horror film directed by Ben Wheatley, written by Wheatley and Amy Jump, and starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley and MyAnna Buring.

Jay is a former soldier and Professional Killer who's fallen on hard times. He hasn't worked since a disastrous job in Kiev eight months ago and his wife Shel is pressuring him to do something about their family's financial problems. So when Jay's best mate and business partner Gal tells him about a contract to assassinate a list of targets for a mysterious client, he reluctantly pulls himself out of retirement and takes the job. But it soon becomes clear that this isn't an ordinary hit list — the client insists on Jay signing the contract in blood and his victims take the time to thank him before their deaths. It's clear that Jay and Gal have been dragged into something far bigger and more disturbing than they could possibly have imagined...


Tropes include:

  • Action Girl: The movie firmly establishes Shel is a trained soldier, and we see it in action towards the end. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save her.
  • Affably Evil:
    • The hitmen's client is polite but sinister, even when threatening the men's lives. His compatriots in the cult seem the same way, politely applauding Jay after he is deceived into killing his wife and child.
    • Gal is also a cold-blooded hitman, but he's also a really nice guy who genuinely adores Jay's son Sammy and wife Shel, and refuses to abandon Jay even when it would clearly be best for him.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The cult is able to easily take over every single location, but perhaps the creepiest example is when Jay and Gal are running through the underground tunnels and, despite Gal's insistence that he checked it out, their intended exit is concreted up.
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  • Anti-Hero: Jay and Gal are both cold blooded hitmen, but they do have certain moral standards, particularly a hatred of pedophiles.
  • Arc Symbol: The symbol shown in the poster above. It's first seen at the very start of the film, is carved into the back of Jay's mirror by Fiona and is found by Gal on files in the librarian's safe. It's also visible in several Freeze Frame Bonuses and eventually, it's revealed to be the symbol/logo of the cult.
  • Arc Words: "Thank you." Said by all of Jay's intended victims throughout the film, culminating in an Ironic Echo when Gal says "Thanks" before Jay delivers a Mercy Kill.
  • Asshole Victim: Discussed. Jay is adamant that all the people on the list (and additionally the librarian's associates in the porn business) are bad people and deserve to die. Though we see this is true for the librarian and his associates, we can only infer that it's true for the others on the list. On at least one occasion Jay offers unfounded assertions about the crimes the people on the list may have committed (such as suggesting that the priest is raping children).
  • Awful Wedded Life: Shel and Jay, although they love each other, are very unhappy. It's one of the first things we learn about them.
  • The Bad Guys Win: It's not entirely clear what the cult wants, but they seem to come out of the film on top.
  • Berserk Button: Child abuse for Jay. Being a father himself, he's willing to go above and beyond to punish the librarian and his associates when he finds out he's been making snuff porn with children.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Shel's phonecall is not subtitled in most releases. But if you know Swedish you get to know that Shel is talking to her mother and her mother wants Shel and Sammy to move in with her in Malmberget in northern Sweden, something Shel is very against. Shel also says that Jay is a good father, but she feels like she is talking to a wall when she speaks to him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Fiona is a member of the cult, and more than likely the one who killed Jay's cat.
  • Blood Oath: When meeting the client, he slashes Jay's palm open so that both his and the client's blood spills onto the contract. Gal reacts by pointing a gun at the client, but Jay inexplicably finds nothing strange about this.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends with a shot of the Arc Symbol of the film.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Shel's national service.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: After seeing the librarian's porn video, Jay decides to torture him before killing him, firstly to get the names of his associates and then just to make him suffer.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • The librarian's brutal death by hammer. Notably, this lacks a Gory Discretion Shot; we see it onscreen in all its bloody detail.
    • Shel and Sammy's deaths. They are forced into going into a fight with Shel's husband / Sammy's father, Jay and are viciously beaten and stabbed to death by him.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Kiev. We never find out what happened there, other than it left Jay physically and mentally scarred enough that he spent eight months out of work.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Jay's victims seem to recognize him and thank him before he kills them. The Librarian even asks him if Gal knows who he is. It's never overtly explained, but this is all apparently a reference to the ending, which implies that the kill list was an initiation ceremony for Jay, with all of the people on the list being members of the cult.
  • Cult: The client and Fiona turn out to be part of one, and it's implied the targets are too. We don't learn exactly what they want or believe, but they seem to like death and sacrifice.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Jay and Gal try to escape the cultists in a darkened tunnel system. Gal doesn't make it out alive.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Jay gets the palm of his left hand slashed open by the client so that Jay's blood will splatter on the contract along with the client's, forming a sinister Blood Oath. While Jay cleans the wound, Gal notes that at least the client didn't cut the hand Jay jerks off with.
  • Daylight Horror: The librarian is horrifically tortured in his own kitchen in the middle of the day.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gal, at times.
    (The morning after a dinner party during which Jay and Shel got into an enormous fight.)
    Jay: Good one last night wasn't it? Good food and that.
    Gal: ... it had its moments.
  • Dead Animal Warning: The cult hangs up Jay's cat and kills it. This is a particularly extreme example, as Jay adores the cat and it's enough for him to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Starts off being a deconstruction of Hitman with a Heart films. Though Jay does love his family, he's also a jerkass to everyone including his best friend Gal, and is a coldblooded murderer who has no intention of doing only one more job. Then it reconstructs the Folk Horror tradition in modern suburban England.
  • Die Laughing: Shel laughs mockingly at Jay as she bleeds out at the end.
  • Dinner and a Show: Early on, Jay and his wife have an enormous fight in front of guests.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Jay and Gal entering the woods near the MP's house signals the film's Genre Shift, and is where things really start going badly for them.
  • Downer Ending: Jay unwittingly murders Shel and Sammy.
  • Drone of Dread: Much of the soundtrack.
  • Drop the Hammer: Jay's choice of weapon for interrogating the librarian.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Gal's new girlfriend, Fiona, one of the first hints in the film that something is very, very wrong here.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Two coldblooded contract killers against what appears to be a pedophile gang...but turns out to be a Folk Horror cult.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Jay and Gal are murderers, but they loathe pedophiles, and people who harm children in general.
    • A possible interpretation of Fiona's expression close to the end is that despite being an evil cultist who has led them all to their deaths, she is genuinely upset by Sam and Shel's deaths.
  • Eye Scream: The final ritual prominently features a nude woman with a blindfold made out of thorns, causing her to weep Tears of Blood.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • The targets seem to be expecting their killers and thank them genially before their deaths. This is the second sign, after the Blood Oath, that something really weird is going on.
    • Going along with the Ironic Echo in this scene, Gal also encourages Jay to kill him when he realises it's too late for him and his last words declare his love for Jay, Shel, and Sammy.
  • Family of Choice: Gal genuinely adores his best friend Jay's wife, Shel, and their son, Sammy. There is never any indication that Gal sees Shel as anything but a family member, even when he hugs and kisses her to comfort her over Jay's breakdown.
  • Fatal Flaw: Jay's Pay Evil unto Evil morality causes way more harm than good, like torturing the Librarian and opening fire on the cultists after witnessing the human sacrifice.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Part of Alternative Character Interpretation.
    • Jay is an extremely violent, murderous hitman who genuinely loves his son, but he also becomes more and more of an unstable dickhead to the ones he loves in a Masochism Tango with his wife Shel and violently attacking his best friend Gal for tiny perceived slights.
    • The cult. Yes, they're all nice and polite and seem to be a Greater-Scope Villain, but they also probably know that they're about to force Jay into killing just about everyone he loves.
    • Fiona. She becomes very friendly with Shel and brings presents for Sammy even after her relationship with Gal breaks down. She eventually sets them up to be killed by Jay, but she doesn't look happy in the final scene. Whether this is Be Careful What You Wish For, Pyrrhic Villainy, or if she was genuinely hoping for a different outcome is left ambiguous.
  • Foreshadowing: Several seemingly innocuous events early in the film foreshadow events in the last act:
    • Jay and Gal's play fight after the dinner party becomes a real fight when their relationship's tested late in the film.
    • Jay's cat kills a rabbit and leaves it in the yard ("as an offering, not an insult" to quote Jay). Later, that same cat is killed and hung up in front of the door by the cult, possibly as their own offering to Jay, whom they may be trying to initiate.
    • Jay mentions a desire to kill pedophiles when stalking the priest. Later, when he discovers that the librarian is apparently making snuff films with children, he goes off-contract and messily kills both the librarian and his associates, causing trouble for himself and Gal.
    • Jay finding the rabbit left with its entrails hanging out by the cats mirrors how he finds the wounded Gal in the tunnels.
    • Jay's play fight with Shel and Sammy foreshadows how he's forced to fight and kill them for real at the film's climax.
    • Fiona explaining how she works in human resources and is responsible for terminating employees' contracts hints at how she is involved in the sacrificial death cult: "terminating" members of the cult.
  • Folk Horror: It turns into one.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Jay and Gal used to be soldiers, but now both are career hitman.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Some of the cultists are completely naked when they attack Jay and Gal. It only serves to make them creepier.
  • Gainax Ending: The hunchback is revealed actually be Shel with Sammy on her back and she laughs before succumbing to her wounds. The cultists reveal their identities and applaud Jay's victory in the fight. Cue credits.
  • Genre Shift: The film is basically split in thirds, with the first being a Kitchen Sink Drama, the second being a crime thriller and the third being horror.
  • Go Out with a Smile: All of the targets smile and thank Jay before he kills them, with them all seeming genuinely, if eerily happy to have seen him. Shel, however, qualifies under Dying Smirk.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: The film's basic premise. Jay and Gal are given the titular list and are paid to kill everyone on it.
  • Gorn: Even by the standards of horror movies, the film is very gory - the most obvious example, of course, being Jay's graphic torture and murder of the librarian with a hammer.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't get a clear look at Gal's wounds after he gets disemboweled, though one can see some intestines sticking out for a split second.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The cult qualifies in several ways:
    • First, it's clear that they are capable of much wider, and much more varied, evil than we've seen so far, as it's heavily implied that they are behind the child pornography / snuff film that Jay finds in the librarian's possession.
    • Secondly, they are clearly connected all over the establishment, if the victims being an MP and a priest are anything to go by, but quite how connected they are, and how many of them there are, is left very ambiguous.
    • It's never fully clarified what they want. Presumably their mission - whatever it is - doesn't end with Jay's crowning, but what else do they want? What else will they do?
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Happens to Gal, when he's attacked by the cultists late in the film. It doesn't kill him, however — instead, Jay has to shoot him to finish him off.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: The only two significant female characters, the softly-spoken Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette (and pagan cultist) Fiona and the aggressive blonde soldier Shel.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It doesn't take a whole lot to send Jay into a screaming fit, especially if his wife is involved.
  • Hell Is That Noise: When the cultist attack there are all kinds of weird shrieking noises that are heard on the soundtrack. It's especially creepy because it's left ambiguous if that is just the soundtrack or the cult members are making those sounds themselves.
  • Henpecked Husband: Shel is constantly haranguing Jay for his laziness.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Jay
    Jay: It doesn't feel wrong. They're bad people. They should suffer.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Deliberately subverted, according to Wordof God. Jay does seem to genuinely love Shel and Sammy, but mistreats both of them and ultimately kills them at the end of the film, albeit unknowingly. Gal is a straighter example.
  • Honorary Uncle: Gal to Sammy. Gal seems to care for him as much as Sammy's actual parents, if not even more than Jay.
  • Human Sacrifice: The hitmen witness the cult committing one. It's also implied that the Kill List itself is a form of this.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Jay's fight with "the hunchback" (really Shel and Sammy) seems to serve as his involuntary initiation into the cult.
  • Karma Houdini: Even though the protagonists kill a lot of their mooks, none of the leaders of the cult suffer for their actions and their plan seems to go off perfectly.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Jay has to deliver a Mercy Kill to Gal and is forced by the cult to fight Shel and Sammy, ending with him killing them both.
  • Kick the Morality Pet:
    • Many non-fatal examples to Jay's best friend Gal, but from a certain point of view, subverted. When Jay eventually does kill Gal, it's a mercy kill and he is visibly devastated.
    • The most obvious one is [unknowingly killing his own son Sammy.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Jay owns a black cat that he loves quite dearly. When it gets killed and hung up on his front step as a message, he's immediately ready to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: The film was acclaimed by many critics for its highly naturalistic dialogue (much of which was improvised) and believable presentation of a middle-class family.
  • Knife Fight: The film concludes on a rather tense one of these between Jay and the hunchback.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The cultists wear intimidating wicker masks.
  • Mercy Kill: After he's mortally wounded by one of the cultists, Jay has to put Gal out of his misery.
  • Mind Screw: The film's plotting is deliberately opaque and unclear, particularly regarding who's in the cult and what their motivations are. This has opened the film up to a lot of different interpretations.
  • Mood Whiplash: There's some surprisingly funny moments scattered amongst all the violence and horror.
  • Morality Pet: For Jay, it's his son and his cat. See Kick the Morality Pet for how well this turns out.
  • Mutual Kill: Gal gets gutted by one of the cultists, but manages to blow his head off with a shotgun before he expires.
  • Mysterious Employer: The client. Neither the characters or the audience ever learn his name and it's never made entirely clear what his agenda is.
  • Mysterious Past: Jay apparently took part in a mission in Kiev that went seriously wrong, and left him unable to work for 8 months. Furthermore, it's implied that he might have some history with the cult, as he's unfazed by the client's Blood Oath and the librarian seems to know who he is as well as some dirty secrets from his past.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gal warns Jay that attacking the cultists is a bad idea. Jay does it anyway, with tragic consequences as it leads directly to the deaths of Gal, Shel and Sammy.
  • No Ending: Jay kills the Hunchback, and pulls the hood back to discover the bloodied corpses of his wife and child. She laughs, the cult applauds, Jay stares into the distance, and the film just kind of... stops.
  • No Name Given: The names of the client and all of Jay and Gal's targets are never revealed.
  • Noodle Incident: We never find out just what happened in Kiev, save that things didn't go according to plan.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After Jay and Gal try to back out of the job late in the film, the client makes them one of these — they finish the list or their families die.
  • One Last Job: Pointedly averted, according to Word of God. Many critics mistakenly got the impression that Jay accepts the contract as this, but the film never even suggests this. Jay doesn't accept the contract as his last job before he retires - killing people is his profession, and he's simply been off work for eight months.
  • One-Man Army: Gal kills at least a dozen cultists with his shotgun during the MP job. Shel also manages to mow down a few with a silenced pistol during the finale.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Jay's treatment of the librarian is incredibly brutal, but unlike the others on the list it's made clear that he really deserves it. He is apparently involved with the production of pedophilic snuff films.
  • Phrase Catcher: An unnerving number of people actually members of the cult show a great deal of appreciation towards Jay, call it an honor to have met him, and thank both Jay and Gal. This is because Jay seems to be a new king or knight to their Religion of Evil, though it's never made clear.
  • Pedophile Priest: Discussed. The first target is a priest, and Jay wonders if this might be the reason he's on the list. He might be given the contents of the "library", but it's never made clear if he's specifically involved.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Towards the end of the movie, just before the film really cements itself as Folk Horror, Jay and Gal have been fighting (literally and figuratively) over Jay's increasing brutality, and Jay wakes Gal up to apologize for it. Gal tells him that he doesn't like what is happening to Jay but regardless, he deeply loves him and refuses to abandon him.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: The above example is probably the strongest example of the depth of Jay and Gal's friendship, but the movie is bursting at the seams with other ones. Gal comforts Jay's son after Jay and Shel get into a nasty fight, Jay reassures Gal after Fiona leaves him, and the movie goes to a lot of trouble to show how well they work together without even needing to speak that often.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Gal acts as this, providing much needed light relief in what is a very dark film.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Played straight with the priest and one of the pornographers, who are killed with a small-caliber pistol, averted with some of the cultists, who get their heads blown off with a shotgun.
  • Professional Killer: Jay and Gal's profession.

  • Rewatch Bonus: Heavens, yes. Lots of foreshadowing (such as Jay playing with toy swords while Shel gives Sam a piggy-back) and subtle hints as to characters' true natures (such as Fiona's description of her profession).

  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Irritable, Hot-Blooded Jay is the Red, while the affable and good-humored Gal is the Blue. Best shown with their respective reactions to a group of annoying Christian hippies in a hotel restaurant: Jay snatches their guitar from them and goes on a tirade telling them to shut up, and then Gal apologizes for his friend's behavior and orders a bunch of orange juices for their table, all while still subtly mocking them.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The porn on the librarian's computer provokes one of these in Jay. He goes "off-list" and tortures and kills the librarian in an exceptionally brutal way, then goes and murders all his associates too. Gal is visibly shocked by this.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jay, maybe. He's been semi-retired since a mission in Kiev, and tells his son stories about his experiences in "Baghdadistan".
  • Snuff Film: What the librarian's porn collection (presumably) consists of.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: The hitmen peruse the toiletries in their hotel room and decide to pack them all up to take home, showing that their lives are pretty unglamorous.
  • Take Our Word for It: We (thankfully) don't get to see the librarian's porn video, but we know it was bad enough to provoke a very extreme reaction from Jay (it makes the hardened contract killer break down into tears), leading to the deaths of everyone associated with it.
  • Tears of Blood: The blind woman in the final ritual has blood streaming from her eyes as a result of thorny blindfold she's forced to wear.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It's initially implied that some of the weirder events in the plot might be symptomatic of Jay suffering from PTSD (such as, for example, a bizarre sequence in which he looks out his hotel window and sees Fiona standing there, waving at him). By the end of the film, it looks a lot more like the events depicted are really happening.
  • Villain of Another Story:
    • Specifically, the cult leader that hires Jay and Gal. He's clearly very sinister, but we never actually see him do anything outwardly bad except the blood oath.
    • Fiona qualifies, if only because of how ambiguous she is. She probably killed Jay's cat but what exactly she does while she's in Jay and Shel's house, buddying up to Shel and Sam, is mysterious.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: The whole movie qualifies for this but the scene where Jay interrogates the librarian is especially unpleasant. Let's just say the camera shows everything Jay does with that hammer.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: To a point. Jay and Gal are close friends, but as the film progresses, the vitriol is sometimes not teasing on Jay's part.
  • Wham Line: "Thank you", from a man about to get his brains blown out.
  • Wham Shot: The Reveal of the cult's procession through the forest, and later the reveal of Shel and Sammy underneath the Hunchback's robes at the very end.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Bizarre as it may sound, the whole film is a play upon Arthurian myth and legend.
  • You Do NOT Want to Know: After viewing a couple seconds of the snuff film on the librarian's computer, Gal says this to Jay. Jay doesn't listen, and is driven to Berserker Tears by what he sees.

"Thank you."