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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 sometime 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
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  • Awful Wedded Life: Shel and Jay 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Book-Ends: 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.
  • 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 = 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Gal's new girlfriend, Fiona, one of the first hints in the film that something is very, very wrong here.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 and Shel smiles and laughs before her death at the end of the film. This serves as one of the first major indications that something distinctly off is happening.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hell Is That Noise: When the cultist attack there are all kinds of weird shrieking noices that are heard on the soundtrack. It's especially creepy because it's left ambivalent if that is just the soundtrack or the cult members are making those sounds themselves.
  • 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.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Jay's fight with "the hunchback" (really Shel and Sammy) seems to serve as his involuntary initiation into the cult.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • No Name Given: The names of the client and all of Jay and Gal's targets are never revealed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pedophile Priest: Discussed. The first target is a priest, and Jay wonders if this might be the reason he's on the list.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Gal acts as this, providing much needed light relief in what is a very dark film.
  • Production Posse: Nigel Maskell and Michael Smiley both frequently work with Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, who are also writing partners. Both Maskell and Smiley have worked with Myanna Buring before, and Wheatley explains this as a reason for their casting.
  • Professional Killer: Jay and Gal's profession.
  • 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 brake down into tears), leading to the deaths of everyone associated with it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: The whole movie qualifies for this but the scene where Jay interrogates the librarian is especially unpleasant.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Bizarre as it may sound, the whole film is a play upon Arthurian myth and legend.


Example of: