If nothing else, Kill List is definitely the most devious horror film in recent memory. Like many great shockers, you could walk in to the film blind and have no idea that what you're watching is supposed to be part of the horror genre. Yet I'm pretty sure the film will tweak that nerve that reminds you that something's not quite right here, and will do so long before a big reveal takes you into the territory of the bizarre.
The plot follows a British hitman named Jay (Neil Maskell) and his associate Gal (Michael Smiley), who take on an odd job that asks them to take down a list of three targets. The trio - a priest, a librarian, and a member of Parliament - seem like an unlikely combination, but Jay, who is too unhinged and explosive to really care, moves in to his task undeterred.
The film's first hour is almost entirely on the volatile performance given by Maskell and the vision of Smiley's seemingly apathetic watching him erupt. The dynamic between the two is very accessible to anyone who's ever had a friend whom they simply don't agree with on every matter. Of course, the catch here is that one is a ticking time bomb/assassin, and the other is the guy who enables this explosive rage. Maskell's performance is the film's centerpiece, and it does not disappoint - the character shows a spontaneous brutality that is terrifically unsettling. Also selling his instability is the relationship with his wife, played by The Descent's MyAnna Buring, and the verbal battles between them make us feel a lot of real and bitter tension.
And there's a twist, because this is that kind of film, and Kill List becomes something entirely different. I've been told I'm crazy, but I thought the impending twist was incredibly obvious throughout the film. This might be because I've seen a lot of horror movies, or it might be because it's the most likely answer to the film's mysterious hints. Even a reveal in the final scene didn't really shock me like I thought it could - maybe the hype just got me too worked up? - but at the same time I was not at all opposed to where the film ended up.
But, when I put aside my personal battle of wits with the twist - a battle that doesn't matter because a) I'm being a bit stodgy and b) the twist still works within the film's narrative and is perfectly entertaining - there's very little to be concerned about regarding Kill List. This is a well-made, delicately plotted, and viscerally memorable film that doesn't miss many opportunities. The film also capitalizes on fantastic performances - led by Maskell's - and offers equal amounts of chilling surrealism and jaw-dropping gore. It might be more admirable than it is enjoyable, but I think intelligent horror fans who also enjoy the work of Tarantino or early Guy Ritchie will find Kill List to be one of the more impressive films in some time. It took me a couple of viewings to get to that conclusion, but I'm finding myself more and more sure that this will end up as one of my favorite new horrors of 2012.