It happens every year, sometimes more than once. Word starts to spread that a new horror movie is the best since (fill-in-the-blank). Viewers are cautioned against reading about the movie too much. And when you finally see it, something akin to disappointment is your initial reaction.
Hype can be a double-edged sword. You can’t help but elevate your expectations when everyone and their cousin swear that your mind will be blown by something, and it sets the bar awfully high, often unrealistically high. Such is the case with Kill List.
This is not to suggest that Kill List is a bad movie. It most definitely is not. It just isn’t as good as many of the reviews claim it is.
As a domestic and workplace drama, which it is for the vast majority of its running time, it works quite well. Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (Myanna Buring) have fallen on hard times. Jay has been out of work for 8 months and Shel isn’t shy about reminding him of this. They have a nice house in the burbs, but it’s clear that they are hanging by a thread.
The couple, though very much in love with each other, is fighting constantly. It’s not a good environment for their 7 year-old son Sam (Harry Simpson). Something needs to change. Enter Gal (Michael Smiley), an old close friend of Jay’s. During a long dinner one evening Gal presents Jay with an employment opportunity. A chance to get the band back together if you will.
The work is simple and it pays extremely well. Three targets on the kill list. Just like old times. Jay does not need much time to think it over. So, one morning, he kisses his wife and son goodbye and heads off to work with Gal.
And here Kill List shifts from a domestic to workplace drama. Killing people professionally is tedious work. You spend long hours sitting (and sleeping) in a car as you follow the target. You clean your gun to fight off boredom. You eat dinner in hotel restaurants. Not very exciting or glamorous.
Though the first kill goes smoothly (the guys utilize a Dexter-like kill room), we know that soon they will not. Jay takes the jobs a little too personally and has serious anger issues. The second assignment gets ugly and Jay starts to lose it. Gal and Shel try to help him keep it together with little success. He was better off unemployed.
The first hour or so is an unremarkable but well-acted and relatively engaging drama. Maskell and Smiley work well together and watching them go about the mundane tasks necessary in their line of work is interesting. Plus, Jay and Shel make a believable, sympathetic couple. Everyone has gone through hard times or knows someone who has. In that respect their situation is relatable. Despite his profession you hope Jay won’t destroy his family.
Where Kill List falls short is in the horror department. Certain revelations have an overly familiar feel and are underwhelming. If they’re supposed to be shocking, they’re not. Jay’s descent into madness and his actions are fairly routine and predictable.
And then there’s the closing moments (no spoilers here). Clearly, they are intended to be highly disturbing, leaving the viewer shaken up as the end credits roll. While there’s no doubt that if someone described what happens to you, it would sound pretty messed up. On screen, though, the events veer into silliness and unintentional laughter more than slack-jawed horror.
If you’re going to watch Kill List, do it with your expectations in check and don’t believe the hype. It’s not even the best horror movie released this month, and if you’re not expecting too much, it is not without merit.