Kill List Analysis – Warning! Spoilers!

Kill List is a great film and if you like horror you have probably seen it already or probably should see it in the future, the less you know about the film the better. It’s pretty easy to spoil it just by glancing at a few reviews. This isn’t a review, it’s an analysis of what the fuck Kill List was all about because I have been unable to think about anything else since I watched it. There is a special level of hell reserved for people that spoil films so just to reiterate: don’t read the rest of this post if you haven’t seen the film!

Kill List reminds me of three films – the first is The Wicker Man, obviously. The second is A Serbian Film, not just for the final reveal (now THAT would have been a good time for Jeremy Beadle to show himself, but he’s dead, he can’t help you now!) but also because the plot follows a washed up guy whose final job turns out to be a messy, violent personal hell. A Serbian Film plays it over the top for shock value, Kill List plays for realism. The final film is Martyrs, because after both Kill List and Martyrs I found myself thinking really hard (like, brow-furrowingly hard) about what just happened, because there is more going on than just random violence. I also could not find any satisfactory discussion of Kill List anywhere on the web, I am sure there is some out there but a lot of the posts I found seem to either slightly miss the point or miss it by miles.

Kill List then is about two ex-soliders (Jay and Gal) who now make a living as hitmen. They just had a job in Kiev that went wrong for unexplained reasons. They are hired to do three more murders, a priest, a librarian and an MP. When they go after the MP they interrupt a pagan ritual and get set upon by naked dudes that kill Gal and then trick Jay into killing his wife and child. The end.

Kiev

The first thing to note is that the The Client that hires them mentions their impressive resume. He knows about Kiev and despite this he hires them anyway. I think the truth is that he hires them BECAUSE of Kiev. What happened in Kiev? Gal mentions that he has never done anything ‘that bad’ but Jay is traumatised about it. The fact that Jay is one step away from violent outbursts through the first third of the film (the domestic third) and the fact that Gal frequently phones or comforts Jay’s wife (Shel) suggests that there is an open secret – Jay did something bad in Kiev, probably relating to his anger issues and everyone has been waiting 8 months for him to get over it. After 8 months it seems like Shel and Gal have run out of patience with him – Shel is pretty hardcore, she was in the army and has contacts that provide machine guns, not to mention that she is a dab hand with a silenced pistol. Shel and Gal both probably think Jay needs to man up, but perhaps they don’t realise that the last thing he needs is another contract, they think that working will help him get over it or get out of the rut he is in.

Evidence the cult is after Jay

The Client wants what happened in Kiev to happen again, or at least he wants a person with those character traits, let’s just call it a certain capacity for the old ultraviolence. At this point he (and the cult he is part of) have chosen Jay for their ritual. They probably chose him months ago – they did their research and got copies of his files. Fiona then ingratiated herself with Gal (who clearly has a weakness for women, maybe she even used her witch powers to seduce him but I am sure she did all sorts of rituals including some sexy ones) in order to study Jay further and mark him with the glyph on the back of the mirror. She also takes a sample of Jay’s blood, found on the tissues from when he cut himself shaving. The kiev dossier is found in the Librarians house along with pictures of ancient statues and tombs and countless other documents – this folder basically contains the entire explanation of what is going on and we don’t get to see it. It’s possible the Librarian even came up with this plan, or was at least involved in the research.

Who is in on the conspiracy against Jay?

The Client is one of the cult leaders. Fiona is a key member of the cult, she is possibly involved in the ‘human resources’ side of cult affairs as she hints at the dinner table, or maybe that is just her day job. She probably kills the cat and the rabbits and does other strange spells or rituals. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these guys do and I guess they are witches or druids or something similar within the cult.

The Priest, the Librarian and the MP are all in on it, they are all cultists as evidenced by the fact that they know who Jay is, they recognise him, they have seen his file, they all had access the files that the Librarian had. My guess is that all the cultists were told that Jay would come and kill 3 of them, and it could be any of them. They then went about their business in their ordinary day to day lives, and it turned out that the Priest, Librarian and MP were chosen. Maybe they knew Jay was coming in advance. Whatever the case, they were glad to see him, they thanked him. Whatever the cult was all about, being killed by Jay was seen as an honour or a gift I suspect.

The doctor must be in on the conspiracy, otherwise that scene makes no sense. We know the cult has people in high places, I would guess that when Jay booked his appointment there was some behind the scenes wrangling so that he saw the cultist doctor. The doctor says some odd things that I will explain later, but they are clearly cultist things.

The film crew in the seedy basement are possibly in the conspiracy. I think the Librarian’s disturbing porn collection might be unrelated to the cult, or possibly just used to further enrage Jay. They were undoubtedly some twisted individuals filming sickening stuff but it would just be a guess to say if they were cultists. It is possible they were filming some bizarre and disturbing pagan sexcapades in the basement, but equally possible they were paedophiles or rapists, or whatever. I don’t think the Librarian was really counting on being tortured so the fact he revealed about the camera man may have just been a coincidence.

Who isn’t in on the conspiracy?

I don’t believe that Shel is in on it, her laugh at the end was a hysterical laugh. She had been in a knife fight with a half naked man in a mask who turned out to be her husband, who just stabbed their child that was tied to her back – she was probably pretty highly strung. Understandable. I don’t believe that Gal is in on it either, but there are a couple of signs that point to the contrary – he thanks Jay for killing him, just like the targets on the Kill List. And he has read the dossier found at the Librarians house, at least a bit (while drunk). If he understood what he was reading he might have been swayed, at least to the extent of the ritual thanking of Jay. I think this is unlikely though.

Is Jay in on it himself? I don’t think so, but then he does unwittingly participate (by eating the dead rabbits) and he does seem to be in a bit of a daze when he sees Fiona out of the hotel window. I think it is better to say that he might be feeling a bit strange, maybe in a bit of a fugue state. This could be the infection, or it could be the blood magic, or it could be that the psychopathic aspect of his personality is coming to the fore. Either way he is being used, rather than being in on it.

The cult of naked people

I see a lot of people saying the cult is some weird Christian thing. That is wrong, they are a pagan cult of some sort. The Christians in restaurant in the film do not foreshadow the cultists, rather that scene shows Jay’s atheism and antagonism towards religion (Shel has a similar lack of tolerance towards Gal’s Catholicism at the dinner table when he wants to say grace). There is plenty of evidence for this, from the fact that the cultists commit ritual suicide (a big no-no for Christians), they practice magic/witchcraft and well, they go around naked and looking like pagans. Fiona shows she is outside of Christianity at the dinner table in what seems like an ignorant comment (referring to Protestants and Catholics she says ‘aren’t they all the same thing?’). When these sort of pagan cultists were common in England, Christianity was just one thing, there were no divisions at that time. This gives a clue as to the particular brand of paganism – this isn’t a contemporary pagan fad, this is something ancient. Another clue is the pictures of the statues and tombs, I don’t know for sure but I would guess these are approximately from the 5th or 6th century – this is based on a hint by the director that the cultists are Arthurian. I cannot find any specific reference to the ritual at the end of the film in Arthurian legend or paganism, but it is some sort of wedding, with the bride blinded by thorns.

So speculation time. The cult needs a man for the wedding. Jay has the traits they need – a capacity for violence, a susceptible mental state, and maybe they even need an atheist specifically. They are planning to ‘reconstruct’ Jay (The Client says this specifically). The doctor advises Jay to forget the past, don’t worry about the present and live entirely in the current moment (it is relevant that worrying about the future is a Christian thing, possibly a reference to heaven. Pagans generally don’t believe in any afterlife). At the ritual, Jay murders his wife and child, he then appears emotionally dead. This is the final stage of the reconstruction, killing his family and losing his friend was necessary to break from the past, and has also removed his future (as an atheist he doesn’t believe they are in heaven). Jay now exists only in the present – in other words he has no remorse for what he has done, he is beyond that and no morality preventing him doing things like that again in the future. This is a pretty good definition of being a psychopath, and I guess this is what The Client and the cult saw in Jay, his potential to become this person or thing. Whatever Jay has become will then, I guess, marry the bride and meet his destiny. Will he become or father the Antichrist? Who knows, but that doesn’t sound like something from Arthurian legend. I would be interested to find more explanation for the ceremony, Arthurian legend is full of some very strange rituals and events, but nothing that seems to match this.

Was it all a dream?

There is some evidence for this. He is told to wake up several times during the film and there is some uncanny foreshadowing (he playfights his son and wife using toy swords). But I don’t agree with this at all. He is in a daze and his mental health is on the decline but he is awake.

So that’s what I made of it. I would love to hear any other thoughts about the film, even if they disagree with me. Kill List didn’t affect me as much as Martyrs, but it got me thinking and left me with a similar hollow feeling.

67 Comments on “Kill List Analysis – Warning! Spoilers!

  1. for me it was a totaly boring movie. I like twisted and mind fucked movie, but it’s too easy to make a movie where nothing can permit you to explain it.

  2. Forgot to say if a professional killer act like them (even before the madness) well.. they will not be long time killer… put the gloves after the opening of the door? srsly? (priest scene)

    I really think this movie was said ‘cult’ like a lot of other movies because people don’t understand what they saw and for them this is genious, because there is something to understand but they don’t… For me I just think even the creator doesn’t know what he wanted to say..

    • Agree with most of what was said here. I pretty much got it at first watch, but then again I did read a LOT of reviews beforehand.
      They wanted to make Jay their cult leader (parallel to the AntiChrist, I guess) and planned this from the start.
      They saw the weaknesses in him, both moral and emotional, and focused on them to complete his transformation. My interpretation is that something went awry in Kiev due to his irresponsible nature and temper. Could it involve accidentally killing a child?
      In a scene after they saw that it is a priest they had to kill, Gal mentions: “Well, at least it’s not a toddler.”
      The article is right on about who was all in on it. Jay’s wife obviously wasn’t, because she still fought off the attackers at her home with her pistol while Jay was ambushed.
      Her laugh was just an ironic laugh made in extremis.
      The doctor was obviously in on it, as they clearly show him at the end taking off his pagan mask.
      Gal was not in on it. He only says thank you because he is suffering (his guts are hanging out, for pete’s sake) and his best friend puts him out his misery.
      As an aside, I also think the breaking of glass Jay’s wife hears right before the cut to the final scene is Fiona entering. Fiona captured her and her son, because she trusted her and obviously wouldn’t shoot her.
      The refrain: Wake Up does not refer to it being a dream, but that Jay must start seeing what is happening and that he is a cow being led to slaughter (metaphorically) and he must recognise this before it is too late. But he doesn’t, of course. Do any of us?
      Well, that’s mytwo cents.

      • Ah I didn’t know that the doctor took off a mask at the end. Good spot.

        I like the point about the toddler although it would be a bit of a flippant comment to make to someone that had just gone psycho on some Russian children.

        I’m still in two minds about Gal being in on it. I don’t think he was in on it in any meaningful way but he did read the file and he does say the ritual thankyou. It’s a coincidence that certainly can be explained by him saying thankyou for killing him but could also be him hedging his bets in some way. Who knows, maybe you have to say thankyou or according to lore you are damned, or turned into a chicken or something.

        • I enjoyed parts of the film, but for me too much is unexplained, I guess that’s by design, but when I have to go searching for movie explanations I’m a little annoyed, when I read explanations and I still don’t know what the fuck is going on then I’m pissed off. I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.

          That said, one thing I picked up on that I can’t see as being mentioned. I don’t think Gal can be involved, as the film makes 3 references to his religion that I can see. 1) Joking about saying grace. 2) His reluctance to kill the priest. 3) Blessing himself when they go into the priests room. If he is religious then I don’t see how he can be part of the pagan cult. Him saying thank you is either meant to be ironic, or just another mind fuck.

          If you enjoy these type of movies then check out Predestination. Leave aside an extra hour to find out whats going on. And lay off the reefers beforehand. You may need one after.

          • Hi Stevie,

            I don’t think Gal is in on it from the offset. I think it is clear he is a Catholic that is somewhat struggling to justify also being a hitman. However he did read the file from the Librarian’s safe – which contained a lot of info about the cult and the conspiracy. It’s possible that he read about the cult’s ideas and the significance of saying ‘thankyou’ and decided to hedge his bets. He looks somewhat ashamed when he says it, like he is aware it is a cowardly thing to do. He has previously mentioned hedging his bets with God before, so it’s clearly an idea he thinks about.

            That said I am still not convinced really, if Gal had any inkling whatsoever of what the cult was up to I don’t think they would have gone to the MPs house and approached it in quite a blase way.

            Just to throw another spanner in the works, there are two scenes of eating rabbits, the dead one in the yard and the one Gal gleefully skins. If Gal was in on the conspiracy the scene where he skins the rabbit could easily be a hint that he placed the one in the yard. I don’t believe this either though.

    • I kinda feel like your right on point i usually enjoy complex movies with twists you dont see coming. I also know that a majority of movies that try to be deep or have a cultish twist are usually about as deep as a puddle and most people dont seem to be much deeper so for everyone to be praising and acting like this is the greatest “horror” movie ever makes me wonder how many of them are just pretending to understand something thats not there, this sites explanation seems like it might be close but so little was actually explained in the movie other then small hints which may or may not mean anything at all unless theres a british theme that others simply wouldnt know or understand i call bullshit on all the amazed moviegoers who say this is great. Not a horrible film by any means just not a very well explained one

      • I think there are movies that have a twist that makes you immediately realise you have been tricked, and these can be cool – the sort M. Night Shyamalan effect. Then there are movies with a bit more complexity where you have to think about what just happened in order to get more from the film – the Christopher Nolan effect – also cool.

        But then there are movies where the director’s intention is so obscured and confusing that you are not entirely sure if you are reading too much into it, or if you have it entirely wrong. You can study it for ages but you may never know if you have the same final idea as the director. For some people this is totally fine, you can enjoy just analysing it – in fact it is often the most fun, because it feels like you are getting a peak into an intelligence that you can’t fully comprehend. This could be called the David Lynch effect and I am sure it is not for everyone, but to my mind Kill List sits closer to this end of the spectrum. There may not be a literal truth, or an absolute interpretation, but that doesn’t bother me in the least, and I really just enjoy this sort of film for the way it poses a question and you can think about that question, even if you may never really know the answer.

  3. Excellent analysis. Certainly the most comprehensive I’ve found!

    I watched the movie a second time yesterday and noticed something else that’s been bothering me. Near the end there is a short collage of scenes (not all of which we see during the film proper) in which we see Jay seeming cutting his own hand whilst sitting alone in the car. From the beginning I felt that there might be some significance to the hand injury, which as we see eventually turns septic causing his entire body to discolour. This apparent revelation when added to the constant reminders that he should “wake up” adds some creedence to the theory that the movie may be part dream sequence, or perhaps that we are seeing things directly through Jay’s twisted paranoid eyes. Also he is prevented from receiving the necessary medical attention by the the cultist doctor.

    What do you guys think? Ultimately I loved it. It’s rare that I find a film that gets my brain working so hard, but despite that it still has a chilling atmosphere that creeps me out at the most base levels!

    • I have to admit I can’t remember the film that well any more, but I suspect that there is probably quite a lot that could be read into cutting your own hand. I had a quick google for the symbolism of doing that but I would have to watch the film again really. Interesting detail though.

  4. Thanks for the detailed write-up.

    I don’t think the movie is confusing, I just think it leaves questions unexplained. I think it’s a lazy mechanic the writers are using to try to make the movie seem more interesting.

    Everything rests so heavily on chance in this movie. What if Jay never revealed themselves to the pagans? What if they just killed their target and moved on? What if Gal shot that last guy before getting stabbed?

    I mean, this whole premise of a cult worshipping death to the point where they are happy to die needs some background otherwise it is just lazy. The whole idea that Jay is so important to them that the cult gladly gets twenty members shot up to acquire him needs some reasoning.

    I wouldn’t doubt that a less edited version of the movie, or at least the original script, had answers to these questions. I would bet that the explanations just weren’t satisfying or were cheesy and they tried to be artsy to disguise the lack of proper plotting.

  5. What about Jay buying that ridiculous amount of wine, ignoring Shel’s grocery list? Does that have any meaning or clues?

    • Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film and I can’t remember that scene. I have been meaning to re-watch it.

    • I rewatched the film the other day, I think buying all the wine and ignoring Shel is really just an indicator that he has become somewhat soft an inconsiderate in the time he has spent out of work. He spends all his time in the hot tub, clearly likes to drink, argues with Shel a lot. I don’t think there is more significance than this, although the plastic swords he buys clearly foreshadow the final fight with the hunchback.

  6. Great analysis above i think. Just watched it for the second time yesterday. There is loads going on in there that Ben Wheatley left for us to decipher.
    I can’t help thinking that Shel is in on it all though. (Apart from shooting the intruders at the end). She seems to be in charge of Jay’s contracts and sources him weapons, feeding his affinity toward violence. She seems intent on him doing this job with Gal, and this could be purely for the money but could also be to serve the deeper purpose of ensuring Jay fulfills his role in the cult. Sacrifice and offerings are strong themes throughout after all. There is a scene right before he eats the rabbit in the garden where she is confirming with the client that ‘they will be there’ . How did she know about this job in the first place? Also by making sure Gal is on the job and will be killed, eliminates the christianity element, allowing Jays dark side to rise completely. I took her manic laugh to mean she had succeeded in her mission .
    It’s certainly thought provoking and a really understated film
    Cheers

    • I never picked up on this, I think the fact that she shoots the intruders seems to override it all though as there is no reason she would do that if she was in on it. I will have to rewatch this film soon I think! Thanks for the comment.

  7. Great analysis, I enjoyed it!

    I think you really have to consider the possibility that Jay dreamed this hole thing though, because I read in an interview the director had the exact same dreams when he was a kid!

    I copied the relevant parts of the interview:

    Given the horrifying climax that’s been generating a lot of press, what came first when you were first dreaming up of the project: the end, the beginning, or the journey?

    I’m a kind of believer in the Kubrick thing about the non-submersible unit, where you look for the main images for the movie before writing the script and work backwards from that. I think that you then guarantee that your film has moments in it instead of just plot. That’s definitely how we worked on this movie. A lot of it is inspired by my anxieties and dreams, or should I say nightmares. Things like cults in the woods and the tunnels is all stuff I’ve had as a recurring nightmare since I was very little. I used to live near the woods. So that kind of side of it comes from there, cause a lot of people keep talking about “The Wicker Man” and it is a reference point, but it wasn’t “The Wicker Man” itself that scared me. These things, culturally, are quite close to the surface in the UK.

    You must not sleep very soundly.

    I do. I sleep very soundly now, I just didn’t sleep very sound when I was a kid.

    Was making “Kill List” a way to exorcise those demons?

    Well, it was that, but it was more. I knew that it was a recurring thing and it scared me when I was little, so I suspected that it would scare a broader audience. I didn’t want to get into that situation where you’re relying on other films to scare, where you’re building on other films. I wanted to show the actual fears that you’ve got.

    link: http://www.indiewire.com/article/ben-wheatley-kill-list

    Cheers

    • Thanks for that, very interesting stuff, particularly as I have also come up with several story ideas based on dream fragments.

      I intend to watch it again with the idea that it is all a dream, but I still am not convinced by this. I think a daze or fugue state (a ‘waking dream’) is possible, but that the events do all happen. I feel like the story originating in the dreams of the writer is not the same as the character dreaming the story.

    • I watched the film again with the thought in my head that it was ‘all a dream.’ I have to say I think this theory holds more water now. There are a couple of scenes where people shout at him to wake up and the final hunchback and cottage scene is preceded by something that really feels very much like dream logic – when Jay travels from Gal’s death to the cottage. It feels almost nonsensical, unnaturally hurried, like in a dream where you skip over certain details which make sense at the time but make no sense when you try to explain it afterwards to your confused girlfriend.

      In addition, seeing Fiona waving like a ghost from his hotel window was a particularly dreamlike scene. Very David Lynch even, and Lynch often uses the uncertainty of characters being awake or asleep.

      If it was all a dream then I would say it was a coma. The film includes the almost subconscious idea that something is physically wrong with Jay all the time – the bad back, the hand wound, the infection. If he was hospitalised with some physical symptoms and was trying to make sense of things in his head then it is possible this conspiracy could be a figment of his imagination – in the same way that dreams about being hunted can represent running from responsibility or commitment say.

      Having said that, I think this is a bit of a stretch for one main reason – when his kid shouts at him to wake up, his character was asleep. It’s not Inception, I find it hard to imagine he is dreaming about being woken up from a dream.

      ‘Moments, instead of just plot’ – this is a great quote.

  8. I think this is a great movie and not lazy on the directors/ writers part. There is nothing wrong with wrapping up things in a nice bow and being spoon fed the plot with flashbacks just in case you missed that part, but every now and again I like to use my own brain. Having said that I think Shel was well aware of what was going on. She practically forced him to take the job under the guise of money problems but she was spending unnecessarily also it seemed to me she had a lot more control over gal and Jay than just a husband’s friend and husband respectively. There is numerous parts where gal refers to her almost like their superior. She was the puppet master manipulating him every step of the way leading him right up to the point he kills her. One scene stands out in particular when he’s leaving I think the 2nd time she says “you’re in danger of losing this” she is not talking about the job because he already committed to that, so what is she talking about?

    • I think Shel is referring to losing her, the house, etc. I think she is implying that she may leave him, or that at least they will lose their lifestyle/everything they have built.

      I think Shel is unaware of the cult but I concede it is up for debate. I think the three of them go way back and that’s why she has control over Gal, and I think she is quite heavily investing in their business too (unless I am mistaken she arranges the weapons). A lot of the referring to the ‘superior’ is also a jibe/joking about Shel wearing the trousers in the relationship/’she who must be obeyed’ type banter. It’s easy to see why Gal can make these jokes as Shel is clearly the responsible one and clearly no pushover.

      But I think the scene in the house where Shel shoots the cultists is the strongest argument for why she isn’t involved, there is no reason she would resist being taken. She seems genuinely afraid for her kid too – there is no reason she would act this way if she knows she is soon to be involved in a hunchback knife fight.

      • Gal mentions “chain of command” when talking about shel then later when Jay wants to go and kill the cameraman gal says “what will Shelley say” Jay replies “we won’t tell her”. Regarding the cottage I think it’s possible she was doing and acting in whatever way she needed to to get Gary to the point he needed to plus the cottage was too convenient as if it was supposed to end there and she went there willingly.

  9. Adding a bit to your analysis: The Royals, elected leaders (MPs) and security services actually secretly head satanic and pedophile rings/cults worldwide. Wheatley tips his hat to Stanley Kubric, think “Eyes wide shut”, which is more of a documentary than a film . . .

    Jay and Shel are not really married, its a fake marrage and fake identities. They are both members of MI5 (ex-military) and both are assassins who do jobs when needed. It’s a MI5 cell, think “Arrlington Road”. Shel can speak at least 2 languages. The boy isnt really their son either but part of a fake family.

    Security personell (MI5/MI6) when they go an a mission where they might be captured by the “enemy”, purposely get a serious injury of the hand – a straight, deep cut across the hand. This tells other satanic cult members that this guy is in the club (similar to the freemason’s handshake). When Jay has his hand cut by The Client, Struan Roger, the MI5 boss, it’s a way for the client to make sure that Jay will remain safe.

    It’s not a dream but Jay is in a dream type state due to the drugs he takes.

    The end is a normal initiation ceremony for any senior member of the security services, Jay now raises in the ranks of MI5.

    • Interesting, but I am not sure I agree. I don’t think there is any indication that the boy isn’t their son for example, they both seem to have a strong emotional attachment to the boy and each other.

      The cut on the hand being an identifier is a good idea, but then what is the significance of it becoming infected? As far as a secret handshake goes, it could have been fatal.

      A normal, satanic MI5 initiation ceremony – again, not sure about this. For one thing the ritual didn’t seem satanic to me, rather pagan. For another, it involved shooting a lot of naked cultists – which is to say, it seemed quite an improvised affair. I don’t think there are any explicit references to MI5 in the whole film are there?

      • If it involves cults and killing then it definitely involves M15, which is nothing more than a cult of killing and other sad atrocities, I think: Which may be what Ben is trying to say or show us. And pagan has a softer ring to it than satanic and is not the same thing, however M15 and world rule is satanic and uses pagan essences, myths and so on, so satanism, though not the same thing as paganism, involves paganism.

    • That is superb – I love that analysis; makes a lot of sense to me, humble though I am.

  10. Great analysis. Loved the movie. One thing: Gal thanks Jay because his intestines are falling out of his stomach. He is in severe pain and is thankful to be put out of his misery.

    • Yeah true enough, but I think it is worth considering due to it being an important phrase throughout the film. From strictly a film making point of view, if you didn’t want to cause confusion and just wanted Gal to be thankful, he could have said something like ‘cheers’ or ‘yeah ta, that really stings’ but the use of this phrase seems like a bit of a coincidence.

      • I think it’s about a guy getting promoted.

        He does an amazing job and gets recognized by an elite employer.
        They decide to give him a test to make sure he is right for the job.
        They make him sign a contract in blood.
        They put him through a series of tests by killing people who are expecting him.
        And his final test is to pledge his allegiance to their organization by severing his family ties.
        He passes the test and is welcomed into the organization.

        They remove religion(priest), previous education(librarian), friends and family and make sure that he gives his all to their group. Thus, this could be a metaphor for the military which is often said to break people down into nothing and then build them back up to their liking. “Reconstruction.”

        Also the same actor plays a hitman for the illuminati in the show Utopia. This could be his origin story. Just a thought.

        But…

        It could also be about a guy getting punished.

        He botches a job for an elite employer.
        They decide to murder him and his family in a ritual.
        They have him sign his own death contract.
        They make him murder two people who are expecting him. They know he is a sacrifice.
        Then they make him murder his own family.
        Then they crown him with a fool’s hat and probably murder him.

        Now here’s the thing.

        This movie doesn’t tell you why anything actually happens.

        And the thing is, we kind of watch movies to find out why something happened.

        We watched this one to find out why this cult was messing with this guy.

        Was he being set-up to die for botching a job in Kiev? Or was he being rewarded for doing a great job in Kiev? It really could be either or.

        But we never find out. If the movie explained why the cult was messing with the guy it would have not wasted our time and it would’ve given us the answer we all pretty much wanted.

        When you watch a movie to find out why something happens and it doesn’t tell you; then the central question is unanswered and the movie is incomplete.

        It’s also very illogical. The hitmen make very poor choices throughout the entire film, despite being depicted as “pros”. Silencers are incredibly loud. The CGI blood was terrible. The intestines were ridiculous. How the hell do they sneak up on him in the end and knock him out like he’s in a cartoon? And really, the entire cult is just willing to just chase after him and his buddy and just die like that? And if the cult wanted to induct him or punish him, either way, why the hell would they give him a knife in the end. They know he’s very violent. He could easily start stabbing all of their rich asses to death. There were so many illogical things that needed explanation.

        When a movie has something that appears to be illogical, they should explain it or risk being retarded. When you have to come up with your own reasons as to why the movie makes sense, then the movie is a piece of shit.

        This movie is definitely a piece of shit..

        • I disagree with your final statement – movies don’t need to explain things. Ambiguity is perfectly acceptable, and there are lots of great movies with an ambiguous ending/meaning, such as Blade Runner, Inception or anything by David Lynch for example.

          I think you can study Kill List and come up with a satisfactory conclusion as to what happened, whether that is the same as the director intended, we may never know. And I don’t think it matters.

          I would say though, you have to have faith that the director knew what he was doing, and wasn’t just making it all up as he went along, or being random for the sake of it. I have faith.

  11. Very Good analysis. I didn’t really enjoy the movie first time around but watched it again and noticed so much more.

  12. I think you are spot on in terms of who is in on it but reading some of the comments has got me thinking about Shel. But its not the shooting of cultists at the end that convinces me she is not in on it, its her demeanor; she is frightened for her son from what I remember an jumpy at the intruders. Surely even if she was in on it and still killing cultists she would not have continued to ‘play along’?

    • I think shel was in on it, one scene comes to mind and it’s a scene that no one really talks about and it’s when jay come home early and unexpected and she is at home having a drink with fiona, they acted like they were hiding something almost like they were having an affair and i don’t believe they were at all but they were definitely up to some thing. Also the end part were she kills the intruders could have been an initiation for her as she could have been new to the cult, and her fear isn’t fear of death itself but how they die, she is part the cult so dying by the hands of her husband in that ceremonial way would be hugely important to her as it was for the priest and librarian, also her her laugh or smile at the end (I can’t remember that bit bit properly) was a big give away for me at least.

      • I thought her laugh/smile at the end was more manic than triumphant, like she was hysterical. But I concede it is ambiguous. Good point about the earlier scene with Fiona, I had forgotten about that, although it is possible that this scene just shows the cult attempting to infiltrate Jay’s life – after all he gets sick of Fiona being around. It doesn’t necessarily mean Shel is complicit. So Fiona might have indoctrinated Shel, but I think it seems more likely she was just researching her – after all you’d have to assume that it would take a while to become indoctrinated to the point that you would sacrifice your child, and Shel doesn’t seem so easily manipulated.

  13. Looking for analyses of this movie I found that most of them, like yours, focus on the religion/cult thing, while after watching it I thought it was about a sociopath’s imaginary struggle against society: at first Jay is lazy, has no job and his wife “bullies” him, so he creates a fantasy (or a dream) in which he destroys the pillars of our society: religion, power, and culture (which in his mind is represented by a guy who, despite being called a librarian, just seems to run some sort of pedophile storage, representing Jay’s deprisal for our society’s culture). In doing this he receives the help of Gal, an imaginary guy who represents his ambitions (he’s a leader, he has self-control and he has a stupid girlfriend who makes him look smarter) who disappears (when we see him dying) when Jay becomes strong enough to feel safe even if alone.
    You say that you’re not persuaded by the dream theory also because we see him awakening, and this would make it a weird dream-in-a-dream thing, but in my opinion it is not _all_ a dream: he’s dreaming when we see him as a hitman, then, when he’s still somewhere doing his job, someone tells him to wake up and all of a sudden we see him in his bed… when he wakes up it’s reality, but then he falls back again into his dreaming whitout letting us understand the exact moment when this happens.
    In the end (and this is in my interpretation the only real murder) he destroy the last pillar of our society: he kills his family, which had been putting pressure on him because he was not like they (and society) thought he should. The cult people who watch him are the society which shows him that he didn’t destroy society but conformed to it, since family murder isn’t a revolution and can even be considered banal.
    I only watched the movie once, so i didn’t see if everything fits with this interpretation, but that’s what came to my mind at the end, and I’d like your feedback… Thank you, and thanks for your interpretation too!

    • At first I thought Gal’s girlfriend (Fiona) was ignorant too, her comments about Ireland at the dinner table could be taken that way. But with hindsight I think Fiona was actually making a little barbed comment: to her all Christians are the same because the Reformation wouldn’t have seemed like much from the perspective of her Pagan cult.

      I wonder how much else Fiona was hinting at with her cover story – her job in PR, and this recession being ‘much worse’ with lots of dirty work to be done. Maybe Gal had it right when he called her a hatchet man, she was the cult’s hatchet man.

      I’m not sure about a librarian representing culture, to me they seem more like representations of the main institutions – religion, education, government – and finally family. They are symbolic for the cult, perhaps representing the severing of ties or rejection of the main systems that are in place in life. Once removed, Jay has nothing to control him.

      It is of course possible that Jay was dreaming, and that he was symbolically removing these controlling influences in a dream, but ultimately I don’t think there is enough evidence to show that this was definitely the case.

  14. I think that the segment where Fiona was standing outside their hotel was a dream as well as him being covered in a rash. You mentioned that the scene with the doctor wouldn’t have made any sense, he was there and took his mask off.

    I think it was a death cult and they wanted to initiate Jay into their group. I don’t believe that Gal, or anyone else was in on the plan.

  15. Something that struck me that hasn’t really been discussed much is the medication Jay takes frequently throughout the film. It seems likely to be some kind of opiate or valium, which would go some way to explaining both his hazy, dream-like state and his sometimes confusing actions.

    It seemed to me Jay was heavily medicating himself to deal with the events of Kiev, other previous horrors and maybe his fractured psychological state. I’m not suggesting that adds weight to the ‘all a dream’ theory (I tend to avoid those at all costs), but still it’s a good insight into his mindset.

  16. My theory was that the cultists were part of a paganistic religion- or maybe a particular offshoot of such- who worshipped death. I think that ties into what you were saying, because death is completely neutral, but Jay for most of the film is extremely emotional. So it could be that they were grooming him to become completely neutral, at which point they would crown him as Death.

    Basically your theories make perfect sense to me, and my thoughts on them seeing Jay as some sort of human incarnate of death is just my thoughts on the motivations behind the cultist’s plan for Jay.

  17. Great stuff here. I have been tetering between that movie was terrible and that movie was great. I do not see any comments about when Shel was speaking on the phone in Swedish. Who was she talking to? What was she upset about then?

    • Coming in a bit late, but just watched Kill List and I think I like this analysis as the best/most logical one to date…so thanks for that!

      Just a few thoughts to throw in with the others:

      Fiona had to be in on this, she flipped the mirror in the bathroom at Jay’s home at the first dinner party and etched the symbol on the back with a knife. And she took the bloody kleenex or whatever that was that had been on Jay’s hand.

      When Fiona did this, she seemed to do it with particular care, and put it in her bra. It seemed almost an endearing effort on her part. I also thought maybe she was leaving what looked like only a partial symbol on the mirror back to instruct him what to do next. So for part of the film, I thought he was having a thing with Fiona, was sick of his nagging wife and insufferable kid, and tying their deaths to this cult thing made him killing them part of his job, per se, which he totally depersonalized. Every time Jay and Fiona were in the same room, both acted a bit akward. Then the doctor asked about his sex life, which seemed very out of place. Maybe these ideas only come to my head because I am a girl…ha!

      It caught my attention when they were in the tunnel and ran one way that was blocked off and I thought he said ‘This wasn’t supposed to be blocked off.’ He and Gal never usually separated, yet they did when Gal was disemboweled. At this point I thought maybe he was so far gone in his head that he would be glad to get rid of his past, now including his family and Gal, as the doctor said, and embrace becoming the king of this cult, as it appeared he did when he was crowned at the end. He did not look phased, just whack, when he saw who he had stabbed, I think his mind maybe didn’t think this was wrong anymore, and there still was a chance he knew something like this was going down and was a particpant…maybe only joining after the first night in the field.

      Then again, killing all of these cult members probably would not have been an acceptable consequence in the eyes of the cult, and now my brain is really wandering.

      I loved the film, and all the actors really brought their A game, especially Jay and Gal. I think I will have to give it another watch.

      • Good point. Really interesting what you said about the doctor asking for Jay’s sexual life, apparently a nonsense but it probably has some meaning. I don’t think it’s because he’s actually having an affair with Fiona but just the doctor assessing his current bond with his wife, in an attempt to decide if time has come for him to be “promoted”.

        Also, I agree with you about the ‘This wasn’t supposed to be blocked off’ sentence. I don’t know what it means but I’m pretty sure it’s not only there for the sake of the plot. It reminds me of David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman’s dreamlike scenes.

      • Good point about the sex life question. But perhaps this ties in to the Pagan sex and death thing the cult had going on. I think they want Jay to become some sort of king or leader of their cult, and his eligibility is in part due to being a murderer, and perhaps it also requires him to be fertile.

        I think Fiona’s unusual actions and awkwardness are to do with the fact she isn’t just seeing some guy at a dinner party, but some potential chosen one. She’s looking at him with some crazy thoughts in her head.

        I think the cult would have been fine with all their members being killed. I think these were lesser members, and perhaps willing sacrifices, playing their part to bring about the ritual.

  18. I think you are right about Jay’s psychopathic tendencies. Twice in the film I noticed a book written by ex-SAS Andy McNab. Studies have shown that Special Forces have the same kind of tolerance of violence, and for violence, as psychopaths. It begs the question – was Jay in the service or did he just identify with the kind of covert operations that took place in the book? Just a thought.

    • That book is like Harry Potter for middle-aged men.

      I actually thought it was made explicitly clear that they were all ex-services, even Shel (who got the weapons through her military contacts) but I might be remembering it wrong. I did think that it was very likely they were ex-military, possibly SAS or other special forces, and had been going slowly to pot after leaving, doing freelance work as hitmen.

  19. Good points, Jake. Just rewatched the flick. When Jay talks about getting a puppy to replace the cat (1.02:55), he says he wants to call it Arthur if it’s a boy, Gwynnie if it’s a girl. Little hint to the Arthurian legend stuff you mention.

  20. This movie could essentially be retitled “The Last Temptation of the Antichrist.”

    Everyone is in on it except for poor Gal. They are just trying to coax the Dark Lord out of his shell of reluctance.

  21. Interesting thoughts, but there is no way they want him to be the antichrist, at least not in your theory.

    In order to be “Anti” Christ. their has to be a Christ to be anti towards. So that would probably only be relevant for them if they were satanists or something of that nature. I know Christians would likely react similar to Fiona and say something like “Pagans, satanists, aren’t they all the same thing?”. But pagans would consider themselves outside the whole God, Satan equation.

    • You are right, I wasn’t really thinking of Antichrist in true sense of the word, rather just that he seemed as if he was chosen by their Arthurian/Pagan/whatever cult to become a similar sort of agent of change.

  22. Shell was definitely part of the cult.

    -She encouraged Jay to take this new job because of “financial trouble”
    -She didn’t allow saying grace at the dinner table
    -She started speaking to and seeing Fiona more often
    -She tricked Jay into joining her at the cabin so the cult could execute their ritual in a remote area
    -The obvious creepy smile of satisfaction at the end

    • Not saying grace isn’t proof of being in a cult.

      I have to say I disagree, the smile seemed more like she was broken than one of satisfaction and she seemed to fight the cult with conviction

    • I don’t think Shel was part of it. Why would she ask her husband to get a replacement to finish the contracted hits?

      Also, the part about the financial trouble. Jay yelled about Shel’s spending, but Jay was the one who bought 10 bottles of wine and other junk that wasn’t on the grocery list.

      I know I’m grasping at straws, but I can’t tie the symbolism of the family’s black cat, multiple rabbits in the film, and Jay yelling “abracadabra” at the dinner table.

  23. I noticed the touching on the ‘arthurian’ pagans. Was Jay in on it, the piece asks, I don’t know. Then why would he offer to name the new puppy ‘arthur’ and if it was a she, it would be called ‘gwinny’ (short for gwynivere… Definetly a strange film- but hey – I like seeing sex offenders get a hammer in the skull. That’s just me though.

  24. As someone else posted above, another arthurian name that crops up is Hall = galahad.

  25. I saw the movie in a different way, a kind of inverse of the original Wicker Man, in which the lead character is the perfect sacrifice for the cult, because he is so innocent and chaste, resisting temptation and such.

    Kiev is a kind of springboard for explaining Jay’s state of mind, but it’s also clear that he has triggers. An obvious allusion to why they might be killing the Priest is made, but the Priest confuses Jay by smiling at him – he recognises him – and thanks him when asked to turn around.

    The librarian is his trigger because he sees the video he has. Gal only briefly looks and tells him not to look, but once he looks he can’t stop looking. While he’s torturing the librarian he’s told he recognises him and specifically is thanked for what he’s done. At this point in the film it seemed as though the allusion was that Jay had previously been killing off people who would’ve been a threat to the librarian’s clientele. Jay is utterly baffled by this but we see Gal knows more than he lets on once he has the file. Somewhat telling is that Gal only reads the file when HE is drunk. If Gal represents Jay’s ‘good’ side, and their fights represent an inner turmoil, then the fact even his good side has to drink to accept the facts in the file shows us that what’s in the file is seriously repressed.

    All the violence comes from Jay, except when he and Gal fight eachother. When you think about it, they could represent both sides of the same person. One has a conscience, the other doesn’t. Gal is the one who nurtures Shel and takes his son upstairs when there’s a fight. The only times Jay is lucid and nurturing with his son are the times he is alone with him, cold and sober. Jay killing Gal seemed more symbolic to me that he had finally severed his connection to empathy, psychopathy is now his only aspect.

    Jay is a man who has broken with reality from the start, and things spiral from there. It was mentioned in a comment above that Wheatley described his childhood nightmares as inspiration, to which end the character of Fiona becomes purely symbolic in this fugue like state in the first 2/3 of the film, like a black dog on his shoulder. All the masked and unknown people who Jay shoots represent victims of his past who he never took any interest in identifying, ghosts if you like, a form of PTSD – perhaps his Kiev incident involved killing many innocents. You can make a strong argument for the final third of the film being a dream.

    Could be way, way off but enjoyed reading your thoughts and having just watched the film again thought I’d share mine.

  26. – I found it odd that only Jay had his hand cut, not Gal. They were both 50/50 part of the contact, so why did they both not have to “sign”? Also, Jay cut the cut back open at one point, why?

    – Dead rabbits in the garden, dead rabbits for dinner by the campfire, someone is good at catching rabbits and it’s not the cat!

    – I don’t think Shel was in on it, she was just greedy, wanted him back out at work so she could buy more things.

    – Loved the film, it’s made my brain hurt thinking it through and that’s a good thing!

  27. Don’t know if this’ll get read but here goes nothing…
    Congratulations, Jake, on your excellent analysis. Very thoughtful and objective.
    My own thoughts are that everyone was in the pagan (not Christian) death cult except Gal and the kid.
    Jay had connections with the cult before Kiev and either blanked parts of it out or partly lost his mind after the disastrous incident in the Ukraine.
    Shel is either in the cult from the start or is recruited during the film. As its a death cult she can kill the intruders so this is more evidence (not less, Jake) of her involvement in the cult.
    The film was not a dream but there were moments when Jay was dreaming.
    I’ve just watched Free Fire and I felt it was Wheatley’s best film so far?

    • thanks – good to see that this post still gets attention even if the rest of the site is mothballed! It’s such a great film

  28. How about jay was the leader from the start , he was the violent one , he just waved at the figure outside hotel , and he shot gal even tho just cus guts were hanging out he cud of been saved , and he looked like he was not bothered when he stabbed his son

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