WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.
This conversation also appears on SoloRien.wordpress.com
Kill List (2011)
: 76% critics, 58% audience
We watched on Hulu.
An original work by Solange!
IMDB’s description: “Nearly a year after a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels, sending the killer into the heart of darkness.”
Solee: Today, we watched Kill List. Do you remember what caused us to choose this movie?
Mikey: Yes, ma’am - when I went to read things about The Invitation, which we both enjoyed, I found several movies people were recommending based on it. Kill List and The Green Room were the top ones I remember most, so I’m sure we’ll check both out before the month is through!
Right. I remember now. So let’s start by discussing how this compares to The Invitation. Better? Worse? Apples and oranges?
Mikey: It’s more like apples and fire-breathing walruses. But I can definitively say it’s not as good as The Invitation. It just also happens to be super weird and different from almost anything out there. What do you think?
I found this movie to be equally compelling in a lot of ways. I enjoyed the acting. I thought the relationships were portrayed very well. I was pulled along throughout, never quite sure what was going to happen next.
Mikey: Oh, yes, you know now that you mention it, I think the characters and acting are exactly where the comparison to The Invitation came from. It’s really similar in that super-real improvised “just human beings” kind of way. Very different storyline though.
Often, when I see characters doing things I wouldn’t have done personally, I end up thinking “that’s not how PEOPLE act!”. Both of these movies had characters who were nothing like me, but who still felt very real. I think that must be a challenging thing to accomplish because I don’t see it happen very often.
Mikey: I thought it was interesting how the husband and wife had these awful blow-out fights, but then turned around and loved each other and all that. In normal movie language, those fights are code for “this relationship is over, just watch”, but this was more like life.
Yes. There was lots of “like life” parts to Kill List. Where it lost me was the ending. I enjoyed the ending of The Invitation for the most part. I did not enjoy the ending of this movie at all. Let’s start at the beginning though. I’m always intrigued by that point when a horror movie goes from “this could happen” to “nope… this isn’t real life”. Was there a moment like that for you in this film?
Mikey: That was a continuation of the real-life stuff we mentioned: I thought it was very different from movies I’ve seen before, in that this is a movie about some hitmen, but they’re not millionaires in pressed suits with laser sights (although the main guy does have that one super-gun… which apparently his wife bought?), they’re working class stiffs who are just getting by killing people. I think that’s a lot more real, as I have heard it only costs $25,000 to get somebody killed (not suggesting our readers save up). Which means, if you think about how often a hitman can realistically get work, and how risky his job is, they aren’t millionaires, or even making a great living. It’s all about getting by.
But anyway, that was all just to say that it felt real. Eventually things got weird. Real weird. Not supernatural, as the Amazon description would have you believe - there’s nothing supernatural in the whole movie. But I think once they got into the cult stuff, maybe when they saw the cult wandering through the woods in large numbers, I think that is where it didn’t seem like real life at all. It could happen, there’s no magic, but it wouldn’t.
In my notes, I commented on him eating the rabbit his cat killed as feeling like the turning point, but I think I agree with you. That COULD have happened.
Mikey: That was early! And gross.
Yes. I think the sheer creepiness of eating something you found dead on your lawn sent my “horror film” sensors into overdrive. I guess that makes it pretty obvious that I’m not a hunter!
Mikey: Me neither. That connects to something I had in my notes… this main character, Jay, was very different from the usual. It was almost like Gal, his friend, was really our protagonist in a way, because Jay was nutballs. He had some serious emotional issues, and was totally unpredictable, and while he was the true protagonist of the story, Gal was our window into him where we could feel a little safe with a more normal human. Did you find Jay hard to understand?
That’s a tricky question. I agree with your thoughts on Gal. He was definitely the “straight man” of the pair. But I’m not sure I can say I didn’t understand Jay. He had obviously been through something horrific, although they barely even hint at what it was, and he’s got some serious PTSD-like behaviors. I was actually a little disturbed at how much I liked him as a person (minus the killing people for money part) and how much I related to his flashes of anger and injustice. I got why he was lashing out. I, personally, would have handled it differently, but my life has been a lot cushier than his.
Mikey: Yes, he seemed likeable when he wasn’t beating someone to death with a hammer. So, lemme ask you this: naked druidic cults in the woods, am I right? I mean, The Witch did it, Holidays did it (sorta twice if you count the pregnancy cult), and here it is again. And I know it’s in many others, some of which we may be watching too.
Sheesh. If you trust horror films, there are naked women dancing around fires in every corner of woods you come across. Do you think that’s leftover fear from the witch hunting days? Or that underlying fear of women and their unpredictable, emotional brains? Women be scary, I guess.
Mikey: I’ll say. Those two things you mentioned are certainly connected - all that fear of witches that the real world went through is about the moon, and cycles, and how women confound the male psyche. As to whether the presence of druids in horror movies connects… Don’t ask me! It’s weird though. It always works for creepiness.
I know a few witches who occasionally dance naked in the woods. They’re actually very nice people.
So, I’m not sure that we can talk about much of the plot of this movie without diving right into the end and working our way backwards. I certainly didn’t understand how the dots connected as we experienced each of the three “jobs”. It wasn’t until it was all over (and I had read some reviews online) that I started seeing a cohesive story.
Mikey: We had a bit of a discussion after the movie, because it was so confusing at the end. You sat there reading stuff online, and the two of us kind of pieced together a vague idea of what we had seen, thanks to the help of random internet people. On the one hand, I like that a movie can inspire us to discuss things, but on the other hand, I don’t like the reason to be that the ending was abrupt and nonsensical.
I’m still torn about that. It irritated me a great deal as we were watching it. I went from super curious and anxious to just plain confused and annoyed. As we read, I was able to regain some of the enjoyment I usually get from stories with puzzles in them, but not as much as if I’d been able to suss it out for myself.
Mikey: The way you say it makes it sound like we did figure something out with the internet’s help. I’m not so sure we did! We got something, but it’s still pretty floaty. Here’s how my theory goes: the cult worshipped… basically chaos. Money, death, violence. They learned of what happened in Kiev somehow (“what happened in Kiev” was a constant background for the whole movie, it was clearly very bad, but they never described it), and realized that this guy, Jay, was the embodiment of their crazy beliefs -
WAIT. What does MP stand for again?
Mikey: Member of Parliament!
Oh. Then THAT’S how they knew about Kiev. Maybe. Except it wasn’t military. It was hit man. So never mind.
Mikey: Well, I’m sure it was political. It always is in Kiev! Anyway, they wanted to do some kind of ritual wherein they’d tear down this guy and force him to kill what he loves, and in so doing he would be their “king” in some way. That’s about as far as that goes in my mind.
I’m not sure there’s much more to it than that. They completely broke him down, using his own instability and drive for justice to turn him into a weapon which they used to murder his family. That was the final horror for him. I don’t think he’d recover psychologically from that, and they knew it. They crowned him, but not in a “now you’re in charge” way. It was more of a celebration of having caused as much destruction to this man as possible.
Mikey: Yeah, something like that. He was not going to be okay. I just don’t know - I think that all makes sense, but it’s all a little haphazard, not structured enough, not solid enough. It didn’t work for me. And it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the “blue-collar hitmen going on a final job” story would’ve been without the crazy cult business.
The cult part was actually less scary to me than the hitman part. I believe in hitmen. I don’t actually believe in cults whose sole purpose is to be as chaotic as possible. There are people like that, but I don’t see 30+ individuals in an otherwise normal community all acting that way. Once it became obvious that the cult was the big bad, all the reality - the part that was amping up the tension so deliciously throughout - drained right out of it.
Mikey: Yes, my big problem was that as they proceeded into their 3 targets, we caught glimpses of something really mysterious (the victims thanked him, there was some sort of horrible video we didn’t see, and so on), and there was mystery in how they got hired and who Fiona was. It all felt like it was a part of something amazing, but in the end, the truth (I guess as always!) was not as amazing as it seemed it would be. Is it bad if every movie we say “it seemed good until it fell apart at the end”?
Not if that’s the truth. I think we do have very high standards. There’s a narrow window of greatness between So Obvious It’s Dumb and So Confusing It’s Irritating. Very few movies hit that window.
I think there was a lot of interesting symbolism that I missed the first time through. I’m not going to watch it again, but someone who did might have a much better understanding of things. The dress made of money, the way the targets acted, etc. I’m sure there’s more to be mined out of this movie. The problem is, I don’t like cult stuff, so I’m not motivated to watch it again like I was with Usual Suspects or that one about the guy whose short-term memory didn’t work.
Mikey: Memento! Okay, we’ve talked much too long and we need pizza! So let’s bring it on home. What did you think?
I think I’m still going to rate this one highly. I enjoyed the first ¾ of the film so much and I have to reward that. It’s like Bambi… people should turn it off before it actually ends! I give it 4 out of 5. You?
Mikey: I wish it had been something supernatural like the description said. At one point I thought Fiona might be an avenging angel, setting the hitmen up to be destroyed in some way. It all seemed much more important than a cult. Anyway, I did enjoy it, and it made me think, but I’m mad at how it wrapped up into seemingly less than the sum of its parts, so I’ll give it 3.5/5. Let’s have pizza!
Mikey: And after the pizza, our movie tomorrow will be No-Tell Motel. Join us again, won't you?