Kill List is a striking mix of dark humour and violence

Kill List (18) Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodgers, Harry Simpson. 98 mins 3/5

Here is a movie that, in reality show parlance, takes you on a journey; starting you off in one place and leaving you an hour and half later in quite another. The pick up point is that mainstay of the British social drama – the domestic slanging match. Where it eventually drops you off is somewhere that you should find out for yourself. (There is though a clue in the director’s name.)

Wheatley made his debut with Down Terrace, a low low budget darkly comedic British housebound gangster film usually described as something like The Sopranos directed by Ken Loach/ Mike Leigh. The follow up Kill List seems to have a bit more money behind it but again demonstrates Wheatley USP; a seamless merging of kitchen-sink drama and traditional genres.

Maskell and Smiley play a pair of out of shape, and possibly over the hill, ex-army boys gone freelance. With their muffin topped physiques they are not your stereotypical contract killers but they are believably unbelievable. Maskell’s marriage to Buring’s is under strain because he hasn’t worked in 8 months and they are out of cash so reluctantly he allows Smiley to talk him into another job.

In the opening fifteen minutes the performers bury themselves so far into their characters and their situation that you’ll follow them anywhere. It’s a film where the audience is always two or three steps ahead of the protagonists. We notice the goalposts being slowly shifted but don’t resent them for not picking up on the significance of things.

It’s a striking mix - gripping, darkly humorous and occasionally sickeningly violent. It confirms Wheatley as a real talent but maybe he hasn’t quite nailed it this time out. If you look up Down Terrace online it’s a film where critics’ ratings consistently outstrip those of viewers and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the same. The storytelling can be frustratingly oblique at times and there’s what I call a Living Daylight jolt towards the end when the film suddenly seems to leap ten minutes further into the story, plonking us disorientated straight into the finale without any preparation or build up.