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.
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.