Kill List is directed by Ben Wheatley. It stars Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley and Emma Fryer in the lead roles. The film was made on a shoestring budget of $800,000 and is a good effort. I finally took the time out to watch the film after many requests for an explanation. The film is extremely open-ended. Hence, you’re going to see a lot of speculation throughout the article. Here’s the film Kill List explained, spoilers ahead.
Because I’m terribly equipped with religious knowledge, I will refrain from taking the article in that direction. However, please do drop a comment if you have information on that front. Let’s begin with The Cult.
This is a group of crazies who seem to be trying to possibly fulfill a prophecy. The prophecy is that they will soon find a leader to take their cult forward into further craziness. Like Morpheus locates Neo, this cult identifies their “chosen one” to be a man named Jay.
Jay is a former soldier who is now working as a hitman. Jay is shown to have major anger issues and seems to have done something terrible in a prior mission in Kiev. We are not shown or told what this terrible thing was. But his action in Kiev makes this cult begin to follow him. They believe they have found their “chosen one”. But he’s not yet ready. They need to reconstruct him. Unlike a classic situation where the hitman’s wife is unaware of his day job, Jay’s wife knows everything. Her name is Shelly.
Shel is a strong woman and has also been in the Swedish National Service. Shel seems to have solid military contacts and aids in getting weapons for Jay. She’s not religious, she doesn’t like people saying grace at her dinner table. She knows what went down in Kiev and she waits patiently for 8 months for Jay to pick up his next hit. But he doesn’t. He’s just blowing up all their money on random expenditure (like a jacuzzi). She’s tired of him not paying attention to anything and just sitting around and drinking. We are shown her crying and talking to someone in Swedish. If anyone knows Swedish and could throw some light on that conversation, please do drop a comment. UPDATE: Thanks to stoffe123321 in comment section we have a translation – “but mom, he’s not like that really. I’m just calling to vent, and you are being like that”. Looks like it’s just a daughter trying to get some comfort from her mother and not finding it. But then, they do seem to be in love and are loving parents to their son Sam.
Sam is the 7-year-old son of Shel and Jay. He seems to be a happy kid who enjoys being told bedtime stories by his dad. Be he’s also upset that his parents fight often. Thankfully, now and then, he’s consoled by his dad’s close friend, Gal.
Gal is also a former soldier and a very good friend of Jay. He too is a hitman, and Jay and he make a team. Gal has got a new assignment recently and has told Shel about it. This explains why Shel has been more persistent about Jay not doing any work. Jay tells Gal to not do that. Gal makes a funny comment about the chain of command – that Shel is in charge. Well, this could be just a quick husband and wife joke or Shel is actually higher ranking. Gal talks about this at the dinner party where Shel has invited him and his new girlfriend, Fiona.
Fiona claims to be someone who works as Human Resources. But the truth is she’s one of the crazies from the cult. She’s keeping a close eye on Jay and his family. During the dinner, Jay gets super pissed for being taunted by Shel for not picking up work. He wrecks the dinner table and heads to the basement. Gal puts Sam to bed and has a word with Jay and convinces him to take up the new assignment. Jay agrees. Fiona and Shel make acquaintance. Shel and Jay patch up and the four of them proceed to have a lovely evening. Fiona goes to the bathroom and makes a marking on the back of the mirror. This is the symbol of the cult which means this family is now marked. She also takes with her bloodied tissues – this is Jay’s blood from his earlier shaving cut. Gal and Fiona leave. Next day Jay and Shel find a dead rabbit in their lawn. They think their cat has dragged it in. Jay decides to cook and eat it … because he’s weird like that. Jay goes over to Gal’s and learns that Fiona might have broken up with him. Jay and Gal go to meet their client.
The Client is the dude with blond hair. He’s a crazy too from the cult too. This is not a 3-people hit job that he has for Jay and Gal. This is part of Jay’s reconstruction. The Client cuts Jay’s hand with a blade and uses the same blade to cut his own. While it looks like a blood pact we can classify this as part of the cult ritual. It’s possible that the blade has been treated with something. The Client also knows about the Kiev incident. Damn, everyone knows about it except for the audience. And we will never get to know either. Jay bandages his cut and they leave back home. Jay says bye to his wife and son and he and Gal drive off on their assignment.
The Assignment is a Kill List of three people. As I mentioned before, this is not a regular hit. The three men are each part of the cult. It appears to be that the members of the cult have been told that Jay, the “chosen one” will come to kill them. Being killed by Jay seems to be considered an honour by the members of the cult for he is the “chosen one”. The first one on their list is a priest.
This Priest is the first of the kills. Jay and Gal check-in to a hotel. Jay’s credit card bill hasn’t been paid. He calls Shel and tells her that stuff like this draws attention to him. However, later in the night, he doesn’t hesitate to walk up to a religious group and growl at them for singing in a restaurant. Jay has anger issues. Gal doesn’t seem to care as well. Hitmen usually play it quiet and not pick a fight a night before the kill. Anywho, the next day, they track down The Priest and wait for him at his place. The Priest sees Jay. He knows who’s come to kill him. He says “thank you”. Jay shoots him in the head. They get rid of the body, burn it. Back in the hotel, Jay talks to Shel. She tells him that Sam is having nightmares about the cat. Shel also mentions that Fiona came with a gift for Sam. Shel admits to initially not liking Fiona but now not minding the company. Jay seems to have a moment by the window where he sees Fiona on the road waving out to him, he waves back. Now, this could be a dream or it could state that Fiona has some supernatural powers of control. Next day, Gal also mentions that Fiona did some weird shit to him during sex. That after, he had to shave his pubes. They head to observe their next target, The Librarian.
The Librarian seems to be a shady guy who distributes child pornography. Jay and Gal break into his lock-up and find this out. Jay is furious. They head to The Librarians place. They beat the crap out of him to give up the name and location of the porn production. Gal asks and finds out that The Librarian keeps his money upstairs. Gal goes up. The Librarian says “Does he know? Who you are? He doesn’t, does he? Before he comes back I just want to say thank you”. Jay is clueless and as he beats The Librarian to a pulp with a hammer, and all he gets are thank-yous. Upstairs, Gal finds a fine in the safe which has all the information about Jay’s and Gal’s hits, including Kiev. Just a reminder, we’re never told what in the heck happened in Kiev. Gal comes down and is pissed with the mess Jay has made and they clean up. Jay wants to head to the place where the porn is produced. Gal is not happy with that idea of straying away from the kill list. He also mentions “What the fuck is Shel gonna say?”. Jay says “Then don’t tell her then”. Seems to be that Shel is higher up in the chain of command. They head to Greenwold Street.
Greenwold Street is where the porn producer is. Here we come to find out that going off the kill list is something Jay did in Kiev as well. Seems that was part of things that went wrong. Jay smashes the porn makers face into a wall for 20 min. Jay kills him. They clean up. Next day Jay gets back home, ahead of time, he’s not killed the third target yet. Fiona is at home giving Shel company. Upstairs, Jay sees that his wound has started getting infected (the infection could be because of the knife used by The Client). Shel asks him to go meet the doctor.
The Doctor who meets Jay is the one who has mysteriously replaced his regular doc. This doctor is part of the cult. He doesn’t treat the wound. Looks like the wound was meant to be infected as part of his reconstruction. The Doctor simply confirms that Jay is suffering from stress, fatigue, and nausea. He also asks if Jay’s sex life is normal, not sure what the relevance there is, perhaps to ensure that the “chosen one” can produce more than one. The Doctor concludes by saying “The past is gone. The future is not yet here. There is only ever this moment”. Jay gets up and leaves back home to his family and his cat.
The Cat is found dead, hung in front of their door. Now they suspect the neighbourhood kids or gypsies. If kids could do that, they really need to get out of reach of their parents. Jay and Gal discuss that someone is getting back at them. Shel doesn’t know about straying off the kill list. Gal tells Jay that they have pictures of them planning to take out the priest. He suggests that they should make the run for it with the money they got from the safe. Jay insists that he must finish what he starts. Gal is annoyed and calls quits, Shel pleads that he helps. Gal agrees but says Jay needs help. Jay feels Gal has gone soft. Shel loses her shit and slaps Jay. Later Jay agrees to back down from the job. When Jay and Gal talk to The Client to back down he doesn’t agree, he says they would come after their family. They return unsuccessful. Shel decides to take Sam and move to their cottage till the job is over. Gal and Jay have a quick fight because things are boiling over. They patch up. They prepare to take out their third target, the MP.
The MP is the third target, we never really get to see him though. They make their way through a tunnel and set tent outside his residence for the night. Later that night, they hear some drumming noise. They see a cult passing by with torches. They observe in silence. They see a human sacrifice while the spectators of the cult applaud. Now this cult knows about the arrival of Jay and Gal. They brick up the tunnel path. They know Jay is going to open fire when he sees the sacrifice. As expected, in spite of Gal warning saying there are too many, Jay opens fire on the cult. The leader of the ceremony turns around and offers himself to be killed by Jay. Jay shoots him. The rest of the cult come chasing them. The cult is after Gal, not Jay. Jay is their “chosen one”. Gal and Jay run back through the tunnel to find their path bricked up. They break the wall down but get attacked from all directions. Eventually, a cult member slashes and disembowels Gal. Jay mercy-kills Gal and gets back to the cottage.
The Cottage is where Shel is laying low with Sam. Jay tells Shel that Gal is dead. Sam wakes up, Shel puts him back to sleep. Jay is followed to the cottage by the cult and they slash his car’s tyre. When Jay tries to get out with Shel, he sees the tyres. He switches off the lights and asks Shel to take cover. He sees fire torches in the distance. He goes out to take them out but gets attacked from behind. Back in the house, Shel arms herself with a silenced gun. She takes out a couple of the assailants and finally we hear a glass breaking noise. After this we are not shown what happens to Shel and Sam. Somehow the armed and equipped Shel is subdued. Then Sam is made unconscious and strapped to her back. After this, they dress their combination with a white cloth, put a straw-mask on Shel’s face, equip her with a knife, and take them outside to the circle of torches. There, they are presented as The Hunchback
The Hunchback is basically Shel and Sam. Jay gains consciousness. His hand wound is further cut with a knife which is probably treated with the same thing as before. We are shown a man observing this, who could be the MP. Jay is pretty disoriented. He’s taken to the center and has his shirt removed, his face covered with a straw-mask, and he is equipped with a knife. He sees the Hunchback and they begin to fight. Jay stabs the crap out of the hunchback, i.e. his wife and child. He soon realizes that he has just killed Shel and Sam. She dies laughing. The cult applauds. We are soon shown The Doctor, The Client, The MP (possibly) and Fiona taking their masks off. The Client crowns Jay. Jay stands there emotionless. His past is gone. His future is not yet here. There is only ever this moment. The film ends.
Looks like The Cult has been able to reconstruct Jay and he now stands as their leader. Jay was already messed up after Kiev and all of what’s happened to him has made him cross over to his new state of existence. He doesn’t cry or get angered by the cult. He still has a knife. A man who’s been tricked to kill his own wife and child, especially a man like Jay, would only turn around to kill everyone one responsible, in revenge. But that is not his reaction. He just stands there emotionlessly, taking it all in.
However, I’d say the weak link is towards the end where there is just way too much that happens between Shel killing the last assailant and she showing up with Sam as the Hunchback. So we’re going to have to fill that gap with some speculation.
Option 1 – Shel is also part of The Cult
Shel is also a cult member and is the reason why she’s been persuading Jay to take up the assignment. She already knows how it ends for her. She too sees it an honour to be killed by the “chosen one”. Additionally, she finds it an honour that her son gets killed by the “chosen one” as well. Hence she laughs, with satisfaction, in the end as she dies. What doesn’t go well with this thought is that just before the Hunchback business, she’s busy killing various members of The Cult in order to protect her son. If she were part of The Cult, she’d just be like “Yo, Cultman! Haven’t seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel”. Fistbump, secret handshake, and scene! But since that wasn’t the case, it seems suspect that Shel was with The Cult.
Option 2 – Shel was just dazed and confused
Somehow, Shel was knocked unconscious in the cottage by The Cult. They then tie an unconscious Sam on her back and bring them to the arena. Once conscious, Shel is equipped with a knife and she sees unclearly through her mask. She is merely defending herself in a dazed state and gets killed in the process. Once she is on the floor dying, she sees her own husband with a knife. She laughs hysterically at the insane situation and dies. What doesn’t go well with this idea is that how much ever dazed you might be, when it’s the matter of your child’s safety, the first instinct would be flight, not fight. She’s physically in no position to win here where her unconscious son is her human shield. Her instinct would have been to scream, take off her covers, use her knife on those forming the circle, and make a run for it.
Option 3 – Fiona is a Witch
Perhaps Fiona’s has been performing some rituals secretly on Shel and Sam. We do see her mark their bathroom mirror, take blood stains of Jay, etc. The rabbit that they think their cat has dragged it in could be Fiona’s doing – some sort of a ceremonious meat thing. Her constantly spending time with Shel and Sam is some sort of mind control perhaps. Over time she’s gotten the ability to subdue Shel’s and Sam’s minds. She probably killed the cat too. In the end, that glass breaking noise could be Fiona entering the cottage. Once she’s there, she able to overpower Shel (with witchcraft) and put her in a dazed state and keep Sam unconscious. This could explain why Shel doesn’t recognize that the shirtless man is her husband. And why Shel doesn’t simply run for it or scream for help (given it’s her son strapped to her back helplessly). Once she is on the floor dying, she gets back to her senses as she sees her own husband with a knife. She laughs hysterically at the insane situation and dies. However, at no point are we even given a glimpse of such possible powers held by Fiona. It is entirely speculation.
However you look at it, Shel gunning down members of The Cult followed by her fight (with Sam on her back) just raises more questions than it can answer. Drop in your comments, let’s discuss this one out further.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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