Tuesday, July 26, 2011

KILL LIST: behind the mask. (MASSIVE SPOILERS)

Note: this is not a review of KILL LIST (short review: I liked it quite a bit, more so in retrospect), so much as a theory of what I think is going on, and as a result contains MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILERS and you should avoid it if you have not seen the film. But feel free to come by afterwards and theorize with me.

Seriously: if you haven't seen it, get the hell out.

While you can.


(Apologies for anything I missed/got wrong on a first viewing: there's a lot that's not spelled out, and a lot that seems really random on a first viewing that can't be understood until the whole film unspools.)

The key line to unlocking KILL LIST occurs after the second killing, when the two hit men attempt to recuse themselves from the three hits they have been assigned. This turns out to be unacceptable to the client, who has them in mind for something. When asked what their goal is, they explain it in one word: "Reconstruction".

Neither of the hitman, Jay or Gal, has any idea what that means. Neither did I. But my friend Mike pointed out after the screening that reconstruction was a term used historically in regards to reorganizing Christian churches. I can't find a great precis online for it in a brief scan, but this book's summary gives an idea, as does this contemporary symposium's summary of reconstruction.

Now, having seen KILL LIST, you know it's about a religious cult. (SERIOUSLY, GET THE FUCK OUT NOW IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM!) If the reconstruction of the cult is occurring, it means it's fallen upon hard times in some way. And so they need an agent for this reconstruction - a "chosen one" - who will lead the cult into the new era. One who, by blood sacrifice (a not uncommon religious practice), will bring about greater religious heights.

Meet Jay, our main character.

When I immediately walked out of KILL LIST, I took the final scene, where Jay kills his wife and son (who are masked and portrayed as a hunchback and fighting Jay with a knife), as merely a person put into a disturbing situation that got really screwed over, and perhaps a mere audience provocation.

But, I don't think it's just a provocation. See, there's this.

Jay's first two victims both thank him. The first, the priest, in passing. Easy to dismiss at the time. The second, the librarian, at great length, in one of the most darkly funny scenes of the film. Before this, when Gal leaves the room, the librarian says to Jay, "He (Gal) doesn't know who you are, does he?"

He doesn't. And neither does Jay. Not yet.

While Jay is slowly torturing the librarian, Gal discovers a safe that has pictures of them, not just from a failed mission in Kiev, but from their surveillance of the first killing. Why?

Well, Jay and Gal have been chosen for this mission especially, that much is obvious. And it's been in the works for a while, from Fiona (cult member) seducing Gal to the Kiev reconnaissance. But forget about Jay's life for the moment. Let's talk about the priest and the librarian.

I believe both are cult members - the latter seems dead cert, the former has less evidence but the "thank you" is pretty strong hint. They know Jay's face.

They know Jay is coming - maybe not for them specifically - but they know he will make a blood sacrifice for the glory of the religious organization. (His photos from Kiev are enough to share his image. His current photos, perhaps, proof of his doings as religious text for a future age.)

(Also: Jay for Jesus? Is that too much of a stretch? Maybe. Maybe not. He does sacrifice his only son, so perhaps it's not a Jesus figure we're looking at; it's a Christian God, come back to the Earth in a low-budget Revelations-style housecleaning.)

So at the end of the film, when Jay kills his wife and child, it is a completion of a prophecy. He takes off his mask - and the cult see the arrival of the chosen one.

What Jay's feeling about all of this is a bit hard to know. Not that he's ever been the most open guy, but the look on his face (the last shot of the film) is indecipherable. The cut on his hand that refuses to heal (OH HAI STIGMATA REFERENCE) has perhaps also caused him to go a bit crazy? Perhaps the wound is infected with some chemical from the knife, or perhaps not.

But here's a question: if you'd done what Jay did, and were in his shoes, would you kill yourself? Would you try to kill those around you? (Good luck, you're surrounded by madmen.) Or would you choose to live as a hand-appointed messiah of the rich and powerful - assuming that you survive long enough for that privilege?

And could you delude yourself into thinking you ever, really, had a choice?


- WTF is going on with the scene with the doctor? He refuses to treat the hand and says some mystical stuff about the present. Presumably he's with the cult. But what's the greater significance, and why doesn't Jay go to another doctor?

- Is the cult logo (that begins and ends the film) online anywhere? I vaguely remember it having four lines, which would match the four killings, but I don't want to go too far down that road without seeing it again first.

- I have assumed that neither Gal nor Shel (Jay's wife) are in on this. I'm not 100% sure, though, particularly on the latter; Fiona's spending a lot of time with her, and her reaction to the cat seemed strangely muted. But she certainly doesn't seem on the inside as the cult is closing in on their house.

- As for Gal, he makes Jay go in the storage space for the librarian, which opens the puzzle more deeply. My gut is that this is a decision made for exposition/backstory purposes, so as to motivate Jay's more out-of-control aspects, but there's the small possibility that Gal's doing that because he knows what they'll find. I really don't prefer that - I like to think that Jay goes off list, but it doesn't really matter to the cultists in the larger narrative. He can try to restore order and justice, in his own chaotic matter, but as the chosen one his destiny is pre-ordained.

- I presume that it's the MP that's shot in the cult scene, but I'm not sure if there's textual evidence for this. I'd be curious to know if he knew it was coming. My feel is that the cultists we see there are perhaps an offshoot that's being decimated for the reconstruction, but I think it could be read either way.

- To be honest, my biggest question in the movie and biggest frustration with the movie (apart with certain camera/editing choices that weren't to my taste, albeit perhaps a natural offshoot of the improv-y nature of the filming, and problems picking up certain dialogue lines, which is simply an accent interpretation issue) is this: WHY DO JAY AND GAL NOT TURN THEIR FUCKING HEADLAMPS OUT WHEN THEY'RE HIDING IN THE TUNNEL FROM THE CULTISTS? This completely jarred with me and took me out of the film entirely. These are pros. Find a place to hide, snipe your enemy as they're coming. Interestingly, while this took me out of the movie, it was also the sequence that a couple people mentioned as the high point of the final act of the film. And technically it's a well done sequence, and if I can find it in me to accept that there's a reason (other than, you know, you need light to see your actors) for them to leave their lights on, I might come around on it.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Alternative interpretations?


  1. Oh, one last thing: that throwaway joke about the church and Ireland at the start doesn't seem very throwaway at all in this context, does it?

  2. They needed the lights to to see their way in the tunnel system which they clearly did not know well. The wheat mask folks knew the passages better. (and it helps to see your actors).
    What was the joke at the beginning again?

  3. Wow. I totally agree -- I guess I just wasn't thinking hard enough to connect the dots! The logo had four lines, so you're right there. (Whether they stand for the four killings is, I suppose, up for interpretation...)

    Re: the MP being one of the masked cult members who gets shot, by "textual evidence" do you mean dialogue? I don't think there's anything said in the film to let us know he was there, but I could be wrong.

    If they turned their lights off in the tunnel at the end, wouldn't it be too dark for them to see where they were going? Really basic, I know... but? The sequence was certainly an adrenaline high-point, but not my favourite sequence (that'd probably be the cult-discovery scene).

  4. I think the joke at the beginning was something Fiona said about Protestants and Catholics all being the same? or was there another joke?

  5. Yeah, Fiona says something like "it's all the same thing, isn't it?" and Gal corrects her with a line I can't recall .

    I understand why they need the lights to get INTO the tunnels, but not why they don't hide and snipe. I also was a bit unclear as to whether or not they knew the tunnel system or not - I thought a bit of dialogue early on (when they encountered the bricked-over bit) implied that they knew the layout, but maybe I was wrong.

    re: the MP - by textual evidence I just mean anything - like a picture of the MP. I didn't mean he was the masked guy, but the initial guy that Jay shoots at the sacrificial ceremony. Or is that a character I should have recognized from elsewhere?

  6. On the name thing, "Gal" is the bible abbreviation for Galatians. Martin Luthor's reinterpretation of Galatians launched the Protestant Reformation, one of the greatest religious schisms in history and the most apparent religious factor in the situation in Ireland. (http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/Galatians-%28Martin-Luther%29.html)

    Another note: I believe Gal actually also thanks Jay, before Jay (mercifully) shoots him. The line is something like: "You're right mate, thanks".

    I don't know if this paints Gal on either side of the fence.

  7. For me, Gal's reaction when Jay's hand gets cut (pulling the gun) seemed a pretty strong indicator that he wasn't in on it, and I never questioned it after that. Since Gal was pretty fucked up by the time Jay got to him, I took the thanks as a mercy killing type thing rather than a sign.

    That name thing is fascinating, though. I was hoping to discover a secret behind the name Fiona, but it just means "fair" or "white", as near as I can tell from a half-assed Google. The son's name is Sam, however, and if you take that as short for Samuel, this is pretty fascinating grist for the mill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel

    On the other hand, the myth of intentionality may be raising its ugly head by this point - sometimes a Sam is just a Sam.

  8. BTW, after a previous KILL LIST tweet had been responded to by director Ben Wheatley, I decided to flag him on this post. I didn't expect a reply, but I got one (albeit terse) that confirms the overall theory: https://twitter.com/#!/mr_wheatley/status/96231201236463616

    Sometimes, the Internet is pretty cool.

  9. Good analysis Doug. I'll send through to Ben as I'm sure he'd like it. I don't think its overly complex and that all the answers are pretty much there. It's just not spelt out with Mr Exposition who usually pops up at the end of genre pics.

    I do worry about you doug a bit if people using lights to see in the dark pulled you completely out of a movie during a very suspenseful scene. I really don't see it as a flaw at all.

    Professionals still cock up especially when being chased by naked mask wearing psychos. I mean Gal continually goes off point throughout the film and you expect him to follow procedure?

    I think this particular kind of intense nitpicking is really counterproductive to the viewing experience, I'm truly glad things like that don't pop into my head to disrupt my viewing pleasure. Of course we all get annoyed when characters do ridiculously stupid things, I just disagree that this was one of those moments.

  10. Oops I didn't see the twitter mention. Sorry for double up Doug!

  11. oops x 2. Obviously not Gal who went off point. Twas Jay.

    DId everyone else know what the Hunchback was immediately?

    I guess Serbian Film's climax kind of opened the portal for that kind of family fun and was the first thing to enter my head when I saw the Hunchback stumbling around.

    The real question is when & how was Jay chosen for the role?

    1. totally new what the hunchback was immediately...the only reason I stayed my frustration from this obvious choice was the look on Jays face and my recollection of the words of the "doctor"..."The past is gone. The future is not yet here. There is only ever this moment." This prophetic "advice" perhaps comes back to Jays mind at the end and I wonder if the (brilliant) look upon Jays face is a dawning realization of the "moment" and the "past" that now lies before him, "gone". The abrupt ending brings to mind the fact that the "future is not yet here".

    2. why was his wife smiling at the end after jay stabbed her?

  12. I worry about me too Ant - but for me it was no different than when you watch a horror movie and they're leaving the haunted house, but decide to go back for some really inane reason, and you can't believe they're doing that. It might actually be testament to the effectiveness - I think my initial reaction was not coldly analytical, but "SHIT! THEY'RE COMING AFTER YOU! HURRY, TURN THOSE OFF!"

    But yeah - I do wish I could turn my brain off more during movies. And especially getting into filmmaking has made me overly analytical across the board. While it really makes me appreciate movies that work on all levels, it definitely takes me out of movies that have minor problems on any level much sooner - I choked on character decisions in TAKE SHELTER that no one else had trouble with (that I've talked to), and some of my issues with the photography in JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI are things most reasonable people wouldn't care about. Maybe that's why I've been grooving on entertainingly bad movies more than good ones these days - if you know it doesn't work from the outset, you're not expecting coherency. I certainly didn't spend the running time of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN wondering why he didn't just immediately hop a train out of town.

    Having said that, it's nice when a movie does reward thought, and KILL LIST certainly did for me.

    I certainly didn't peg the Hunchback.

  13. Ant- Presumably Jay was chosen after he lost his shit in Kiev? The Librarian had a file on whatever went down there, I assumed he'd displayed violent tendencies that got their attention. (I guess they have members in Kiev? Ahhh I dunno)

  14. Oh and when The Hunchback popped up I knew for sure it was his wife. Didn't pick what the hunch was though.

  15. Nice analysis Doug.

    I'm kind of with you on the flash lights. I found it jarring and a bit obvious, but I think they set it up well enough with the bricked over wall that there was a sense that the tunnels had been changed by the cultist and they were now lost and panicking. But I couldn't help thinking.. hmmm those lights are pretty convenient FOR THE CAMERA.

    I had a terrible feeling of dread about what the hunchback was from the moment it entered the screen. Which didn't so much ruin any sense of surprise but rather make that scene even more brutal to watch. I SO didn't want to be right about that.

    It seems so pre-ordained that I feel like the Kiev thing was probably part of the set up, rather than just something that went wrong and led to Jay coming to the cult's attention, but they don't really give enough details about it to know one way or another.

    Also, I feel that any cult that regularly wears dry wicker masks and carries huge flaming torches probably doesn't have a lot of longevity. Looks nice though!

  16. I made sure to play close attention give your's and other's tweets, and I got most of what you describe above, but there are a few things I don't understand.

    Why does Shel fight Jay in the hunchback guise? I don't have a good memory of how it played out - was she blindfolded or otherwise unable to see that it was Jay?

    I'm also curious why Jay was chosen for this role. The sense of moral outrage he showed wrt the Librarian and the first encounter with the cult wouldn't seem to mark him as someone who would go along easily with what they're engineering. That said, they've cut off all his ties to friends and family ...

  17. Hi. Saw the film this week and it has totally gotten under my skin. So, here's my interpretation. Its a bit out there, so bear with me:

    The cult are looking for a new leader who can control the group's actions and behaviour. To do this, members convert or manipulate individuals from outside the group and task them with making a sacrifice in order to be part of the group. However, they cannot make the sacrifice themselves. Instead, they have to orchestrate it so that some else does.

    The client has chosen Jay to make his sacrifices, presumably for his work in Kiev. His targets are the Kill List. Fiona has chosen Shel and her target is the son (this could be the 'gift' she refers to midway through the film). Both Jay and Shel will be rewarded with a place in the cult if they complete the task. However, they are also told that if they die, they'll go to the same wonderful place everyone else goes to (hence Shel laughing at the end). Gal is used as a pawn to get to these two and is unaware of what is happening around him.

    Therefore, at the end, and as a result of Jay stabbing and killing all of the hunchback, you see the client looking very pleased with himself while Fiona looks a bit disappointed to say the least.

  18. Don - I'm pretty sure Jay is masked in the fight, and I also assumed some element of drugging. I'm less clear on "why" Jay was chosen, apart from their likelihood that they can manipulate him into killing people easier than normal.

    Ned - it may be because I'm sleep deprived from Fantastic Fest, but I'm not getting it. Are you saying that Fiona is trying to manipulate the situation so that Shel kills her son? I'd say evidence on the ground for that is pretty scant. But I didn't really notice Fiona's reaction at the end or remember the "gift" you refer to.

    In other news, I need to watch this film again.


  19. dd - same here. A second viewing will jog a few memories, but the only reason I suggest it is because a few blogs refer to the gift for Sam. Also, Fiona's reaction was so different to that of the client's that it stuck with me. The point i'm trying to make (probably quite badly) is they're looking for people who are happy to kill or be killed i.e. perfect cult members.

  20. Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but Fiona's explanation of her job at the dinner party is very interesting with hindsight: she's in 'HR' and helps organisations that are in trouble 'downsize'...

    1. I truly believe that that's just her honest-to-goodness day job. Nothing cryptic, just what she does when she's not wickered up or defacing people's mirrors. Everyone I've ever met in "Human Resources" could also easily be part of a Satanic cult. Every man jack of them.:-)

    2. Fiona has to be in on it. At the dinner party, she carves what looks like half of the symbol into the back of the mirror in the bathroom.

    3. I thought Fiona and Jay acted really awkward when they were in the same place. Then she took the bloody kleenex and put it in her bra, with great care like it meant something to her. The doctor strangely asked how Jay's sex life was going. I was tinkering with the thought that Fiona and Jay would have a thing going on, or she was trying to help seduce him into the cult. If you want to stretch it really far, it could be argued she was leaving him instructions with the etching on the back of the mirror.

  21. Chris - very nice catch indeed. It comes out on video soon here in NZ, and I'm looking forward to giving it another look to see how it holds up on a second viewing.

  22. I think this thread pretty much nails it except I am sure Shel was in the cult. He volunteers to military service, she buys the assault rifle, she rejects grace at dinner, she doesn't seemed bothered about the rabbit etc. Everyone with the exception of Gal was in on the sole objective of fracturing Jay's mind so he would lead/work for, the cult. I think Kiev was the first attempt which didn't work but enough to stop him working for 8 months. They then know that his son was the only way to push him completely over the edge, his relationship with his wife was not strong enough to be ammunition of this size so they orchestrated the grime final scene, and Shel laughs.
    In the cottage she is still in character so she kills people entering as she does't know where Jay is.

  23. Maybe Fiona is disappointed in the final scene because she didn't approve of the son being part of the game. At the first dinner scene, she says she is in charge of downsizing but "it's nothing personal". Her humanity here seems sincere to me. After dinner, she makes sure to tell Shel she loves kids, even though she doesn't want any...(not with the kind of business she's in, I am guessing). I think she would probably quit the cult after the final scene. She and Jay have flipped?

  24. This all sounds very plausible in terms of being intended by Wheatley, but maybe not so plausible in terms of making sense. I mean, come on: you force a man to kill his beloved wife and child (actually, it's even worse: you don't even force him, you *trick* him) and he's supposed to be grateful? Do the cultists think they can ever trust Jay after what they've done to him, let alone make him their Messiah? Also, what we see of his personality - psychotic rage with a side of moral hysteria - doesn't seem to mark him out as a natural leader. Or maybe it does.

    I do think Gal is intended to be part of the conspiracy, though. Otherwise why emphasise his (otherwise irrelevant) religious beliefs?

  25. Theo - apart from the question of whether he's too drugged to remember what he's done, I'm not sure that Jay's long term health is of much consequence to the cult. In fact, given how they go, making a blood sacrifice of him in turn doesn't seem particularly implausible. I did emphasize his POV in my piece, but with the benefit of hindsight I can think of a lot of reasons why his role as figurehead/messiah is one more meant for the development of lore than any actual day-to-day function that he would fulfill.

    Also, I don't recall the comments having such shitty formatting the last time I checked in. I'll have to investigate.

    I think this comes out in NZ on Blu/DVD in Feb or March, and look forward to revisiting it and filling in any further thoughts (and comparing the many suggestions, some contradictory, that have come up in this thread).

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  27. While I don't doubt there's an element of convenience going on (as in, we have to have something creepy in act I so people know they're watching a horror), I'm perfectly willing to accept the scratching of the symbol on the back of the mirror as necessary ritual. We're not given any exposition to account for this, of course, but I think it's reasonable, and I'm not sure we needed a "Cult Bible" verse saying "and his home will be consecrated with the sigil, and he shall slay the three figureheads of the establishment, and he shall stab his wife and kid without knowing it" ...

    I do think some of your points are well taken, though. Jay's behaviour does get pretty puzzling at some points, unnaturally accepting. I was wondering if it was toxicity from the wound, but as you point out, it starts beforehand. Hmmmm ....

  28. Shel is a puzzling one. Everything points to her being - through the course of the movie - either indoctrinated INTO or possessed BY the cult. Personally (although it doesn't present as a supernatural film) I prefer the idea that she's being possessed. Why is that girlfriend of Gal's scratching symbols in Jay & Shel's house? If that's not some part of the possession process (or leastways, the cult BELIEVE that it is), then that's nowt but an act of wanton vandalism, like scrawling your name on the door of a public bog. Whilst that's all rather fun when you're eleven, why is SHE doing it? She could blow everything. So, possession suits that angle. Also: you'd have to be pretty bloody persuasive to indoctrinate a woman into a cult that involves her willingly sacrificing herself and her child, and Shel looks a bit too level-headed, hard-nosed and materially driven to get sucked into any shenanigans. But SOMETHING convinces her to have a knife-fight with her husband whilst carrying their son on her back at the end (she's laughing as he unmasks her; she's definitely "in" on it at that point. Else, why did she have that fight with him at all?). So, possession, then. Maybe over a period of sessions, like acupuncture (hence that weird girl befriending her while Jay's on his job, scratching symbols into bathroom accessories, etc.). That all fits. UNTIL you factor in a sequence you mentioned above in which Shel is definitely rigorously defending herself from the home-invading cult members. And that wasn't Shel "acting" a part for Jay's sake, he wasn't there at that point. So... what, then? She's on Jay's side, moments later she's "The Hunchback". Drugs? Drugs, maybe? If so, are we then saying then that weird girl graffiti-ing the mirrors and befriending Shel whilst dumping Gal is all just a big fat red herring? 'Cos that's all entirely unnecessary if, at the moment of truth, all the cult do is jab Shel with a syringe full of psychotropic loopy juice.

    It's frustrating. I'm all for the well-worn convention of not clueing the viewer in on everything; I don't CARE what was in Marsellus Wallace's briefcase.:-) But I've got a horrible suspicion that the writers - who had already committed to utilizing that convention for stylistic purposes - then chose to exploit that convention in order to traverse huge leaps in narrative logic. "Hang on, why are we making THIS happen, now?" "(shrugs) Dunno, but since we're not explaining it all, it doesn't HAVE to make sense, does it?"

    Alright, how about this: JAY is in on it. I mean, all the way through. Since before the start of the film. It explains why he doesn't flip at the end as he's "crowned" after slaughtering his family, it explains why he doesn't immediately kill the old sod who slices his hand (I mean you would, wouldn't you?), it explains why he just waves back at the crazy bird waving at him outside his hotel room instead of shouting, "Oi! Gal! That nutty tart's out here!", it explains why he doesn't flip out at the doc who's acting rather strange (maybe Jay's retaining a degree of "Huh? What?" for deep cover purposes), and it explains why he's being thanked for executing people, and why The Librarian knows him so well and is so affable, despite... well, what's happening (again, Jay feigns confusion for deep cover purposes). Of course, that opens up as many questions as it answers. Like, why not just donk his wife/son on the head with a hammer, put the straw crown on his head and Voila! End of story. AAAAARGHHH!

    (Sorry, removed and re-edited to smooth out a raft of grammatical sins!)

  29. Just listened to the commentary track on the blu-ray by Ben Wheatley (director) and his wife, Amy Jump (writer), and to SOME of the commentary track by principal actors Neil Maskell (Jay), Michael Smiley (Gal) and MyAnna Buring (Shel). Doesn't explain everything (confirms one or two of my concerns, tbh), but for what it's worth, here are some bits and pieces (might take a couple of posts):

    Gal's overt Catholicism - wasn't a scripted thing and isn't supposed to indicate anything regarding the wider plot. It was just a trait brought to the character by the actor Michael Smiley.

    "Kiev" is a purposely undefined MacGuffin, no more. The director removed many references to Kiev from the final cut because it was being mentioned so often it had started to sound funny. In fact they (Wheatley/Jump) had debated including a flashback scene showing that the terrible incident in Kiev was in fact Jay getting really drunk, and dancing really embarrassingly in a nightclub.

    The bathroom scene (Fiona, bathroom mirror, bloody tissue) was intended as a beat to imply to the audience that this MAY be a horror movie. However, Ben Wheatley says later on in the movie that when Fiona is busy befriending Shel, she'd be "Carving runes everywhere (around the house), cursing everyone." So the cult believe they are doing SOMETHING at least via supernatural means to either Shel, or Jay, or Shel AND Jay. Oh, and that symbol - it was invented, by Ben Wheatley. It's not real or intended to resemble anything real. So no need to research it.

    Ben acknowledges at one point that they (he and Amy) had removed too much exposition (a criticism widely levelled at the film by critics and fans alike), but Ben felt that that exposition had simply been too dull to remain in the film.

    The movie that Gal/Jay see in the lock-up is also a MacGuffin. There was never any intention to imply anything specific beyond "So awful, you wouldn't want to see it." The general consensus is that it's kiddie porn, but the filmmakers weren't implying that, specifically.

    Librarian & Priest's attitudes to Jay were indicators that they were cult members who knew Jay was "chosen" and coming for them, but Jay was NOT in on it (knackering at least one half-assed theory I'd had on it). Writer Amy Jump liked the idea of them saying "Thankyou" because it felt scarier to have these "victims" welcoming their fate.

    Fiona waving at Jay outside the hotel - this was purposely ambiguous and dreamlike so as to question whether Jay was really seeing this or not ("Did I just see that? Or did I dream it?").

    Doctor sequence not expanded upon other than Ben Wheatley saying that it was based very loosely on a trip HE made to the docs when he was 16, with a bad back. Doc asked him if he'd been depressed, and suggested that Ben needed to have an affair! The doc in Kill List however IS definitely in the cult, he's one of the people who unmask at the end of the Hunchback fight.


  30. ...CONTINUED:

    When Jay/Gal go back to the client to try to back out, he calls them "cogs" in their "reconstruction". I've seen a theory on the net suggesting that "reconstruction" was a 15/16th century term that related to the rising of a new religion or church, and that this was what the client was talking about. However Ben Wheatley explains that in an early draft of the script there were two warring factions within the cult, and one was seeking to overtake and bring down the other, and this speech on "Reconstruction" (which was trimmed considerably) was just a residual part of that early draft.

    Ceremony where "Bride" is being hanged - deliberately no exposition here; director wants the audience as baffled and in-the-dark as Jay and Gal at this point. The guy who turns around and holds his hands out triumphantly as he's shot by Jay IS the MP. Ben Wheatley laments in the commentary not having made that clearer.

    Some disagreement on the sequences in the tunnels between the writer and the director: Amy Jump didn't like them, didn't "understand" them. Ben Wheatley wanted those scenes simply because scenes in tunnels "look scary."

    A lot of exposition by way of a lengthy monologue by the High Priest just prior to the start of the Hunchback fight explained what this fight was and what Jay gained by winning it. Ben Wheatley cut it because he felt it was unnecessary, we could "see what was happening". He also said that this scene "makes perfect sense" to him.

    Shel smiling/laughing at the end as she dies - MyAnna Buring said that she wasn't playing it ambiguously, she was playing it a certain way (as it was written for her to play it in the script) but she was reluctant to say what that way was. Ben Wheatley however said that she is laughing at the irony of it all as she realises she's been fighting Jay; she's definitely NOT in on it (this is STILL a bit I have a problem with; if that is the case, is her mask blind? We must assume that it is, because even with a straw mask on his head, you'd recognise your own husband's bare-chested body, wouldn't you? Let ALONE the fact that Shel must deduce that she's probably fighting her husband at that point anyway, even if she IS blind. And why has she gone into battle with her kid on her back? Isn't it worth screaming "NOOO! I've got a child on my back!"? And if she ISN'T in on it, I go back to the concern I raised in my earlier post - so, what was all that shit with Fiona befriending her if she's being neither indoctrinated OR brainwashed/possessed? Is Fiona REALLY in the house JUST to scratch witchy marks everywhere, as per Wheatley's earlier assertion that that's what she'd be doing during that time? Pfft).

    Neil Maskell says that the whole thing is purposely written like a Pinter or a Beckett play (I've seen neither so hopefully that means something to some of you reading this) in that ALL possibilities - even those that contradict one another - are all present at once (as he puts it: "You're alive AND you're dead, not: You're alive OR you're dead").

    1. So it's a Schroedinger's plot! I literally just watched the film on Film4 and I'm loving all these theories because I have no idea what's gone on or why!

  31. Thumbs up to Wheatley, excellent acting all round and a truly baffling storyline. ..my initial thoughts were that the storyline was a very simple (yet fascinating) take on a man losing his sanity, Jay was an ex special ops kinda guy who saw or had to do some unspeakable things in Kiev that left him with irreparable mental repercussions, and i also presumed Gal was a split personality. I presumed the storyline to be based on Jays spiral into madness. i thought the doctor was a shrink telling him that the "now" is most important because of his mindset being lost in the past and how fragile he was (also i think he imagined ALOT of things). I thought the flashbacks towards the end of the movie were an indication of Gal being a figment of his imagination (the nice side of him) as you saw Jay cutting his own hand in the car with no one around ect.. i presumed his wife was an ex army type as well. I presumed the ending to be a theatrical take on his spiral into madness , as represented by the devilish figures and Jay trying to fight them off and finally overpowering him and killing Gal (his last remaining part of his sanity). I presumed that the scene where you see his wife and son in the hotel was an indication that it was Jay all along dragging his family around thinking he had to kill these people. ... It's amazing how one can perceive such different notions i really enjoyed reading your analogies ..great blog ....thanks

  32. also i thought the other girl in the movie was a girl he was having an affair with..

  33. 1. satanic cults with allmighty powers does not exist. And--- It's never about the surface plot. It wouldnt scare you if it was. We dont believe in those cults.

    2. Never trust the director. (I'll come back to this).

    3. So where does this leave us... What is the movie about? The opening "statement" - a couple having a nasty fight. The end - husband killing wife and child.

    In short: Jay can't deal with his issues (cmon folks, back problems? really), he's jealous towards Gal (notice the exchange of hugs when they come for dinner, his repeated aggression towards gal that night), he can't deal with his aggression towards his wife (played out in the sword fight) and child (the child calls him lazy), and he can't deal with the fear of them leaving him (notice his concern when his wife is talking to her mother - i assume, it was in swedish - she cursed about how she couldnt leave).

    So, he hates her, can't leave her, and the rest of the movie is severly colored by his unconscious phantasy (where everything is possible - just like the director said about possible interpretations). Since Jay can't deal with his issues (quite obvious, isnt it), his anger turns to paranoia (basic theories of paranoia - unacknowledged anger placed outside oneself). This cult tricks him and "makes" him kill his wife - the only way he can let his anger towards her close to the surface.

    Yeah, shoot me. Cmon, you gonna stand up for the credibility of a satanic cult? No, it's not about it. The movie is framed by the husband-wife relationship, paranoia and anger. The stuff inbetween is what Jay needs to produce inside in order to deal with his own stuff.

    I think the director's quite defensive remarks about different parts of the movie ("it looked more scary", "doesn't mean anything) are interesting, especially since he wrote it with his wife. Nevertrust the author, especially when he's that defensive. So - maybe it's a metaphor for the rage between them they can not admit. My wild guess.

    Good night.

    1. Finding out it was created by a husband-wife combi does put a different spin on things; could well be a valud interpretation a battaille

    2. lol identical comment posted on another forum board.

      good work.

  34. Watched this film for the first time last night on filmfour, man was it fucked up! but quite thought provoking like the 1st time i seen the wicker man.

  35. Great stuff! My thoughts for those who are interested: Dan's "Kill List" Thoughts

  36. I'm wondering if we might get to know whether Shel is in on it if we could understand what she is saying in the tearful Swedish phone call early on. Any Swedish speakers out there? (I'm assuming it's Swedish anyway)

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  38. Watched this last night because Wheately directed the first two Doctor Who episodes with Capaldi and I wanted to see more. The only thing I noticed that I haven't seen mentioned is what tipped me off to Priest being part of the cult before he said "thank you," it looked to me like the symbol was on the front of his (forgive my ignorance of priestly vestments here) cape/cloak around his neck. It looked like white stitching in white cloth, and may have only been the diagonal lines -- but I thought at first "Why does he have an 'A' on his neck?" then thought of the symbol. It's also possible I was just imagining it and it was fold in the cloth that my internal pattern-seeker leapt to conclusions about.

  39. i watched this last night for the first time. wondered about the priest and librarian who "knew" Jay. Never trusted Shel-seemed too cold/detached to care about Jay. Hated lights in tunnel...hello? people are after you and you "light up my life"? At last moment guessed who the hunchback was. Got on the net immediately following the film's end. Will watch again tonight w/ all your observations(netflix) and hope I
    'get it' this time. Enjoyed it greatly...didn't understand it though.

  40. Great job. I was wondering about the more cryptic elements of the film, and you explain it pretty well. Thanks.

  41. A latecomer here, reading people's thoughts on this strange and unsettling pic with interest. Baffling stuff but imagination-capturing and memory-troubling enough to make me watch it three times in a week, which is one hundred times more than ninety-nine percent of what I see does for me. Better fascination than tidy endings.

  42. An after-thought: urban professionals in their career-moves, cliques, dinner-parties and inscrutable intercom-entry networks are a perfectly chilling cold-eyed cult, albeit lacking the overt occult leanings shown in the film.

  43. His interview tells me that Ben Wheatle is weak and had no real meaning or design behind this film. The movie itself reminds of random spills on a canvas that some art lovers are convinced is a work of genius. This whole movie is a con. The only credit I will give it, is that there is some value to be had if the viewer sees it as a collection of moments with no theme or point.

  44. An interesting angle on this is that the cult might have it's roots in Authurian legend/resurrection theories. Certain sects of Authurian culture believes that the mythical King Aurthur will one day reemerge in the world to unite Brittain. There's a couple images in the film that made me think of this - the incredibly creepy foreshadowing scene of Jay play-sword fighting Shel and Sam early on with foam swords, the climactic knife fight itself, the chase through the sewers which resemble catacombs (as if searching for Aurthur's tomb), and of course Jay getting "crowned" after he defeats the hunchback. You could also go way out on a limb and say the cult's symbol looks like an "A" inside of a sniper's scope, but that's admittedly a stretch. As far as the cult's violence and obsession with death, they likely believe that through human sacrifice or self sacrifice they can induce Aurthur's resurrection.

    Just a thought - not saying this is in any way correct but another way of looking at a beautifully twisted film

  45. I am grateful for all explanations here and it certainly was thought provoking to me enough so that I came looking and found this place, so thanks guys...
    Picking up on one scene, I do think Gal realised what was going on after they tried to cut short the contract with the client... I do think the way he said "how long have we been working for you?" Was said said more like the penny dropping than anything else that has been touched upon here... I think once that conversation was ongoing and Gal thinking back over the previous situations and having seen the file on Jay.. he suddenly realised that everything had been manipulated by the client and his group up to that point including I think everything that they had done before and including the Kiev assignment... I mean the assignment itself and not what Jay may or may not have done...

  46. I'm late to the party..
    did anyone else notice that the hunchback scene was foreshadowed earlier in the film during the you sword fight? Sam is on his mind back and Jay pulls them to the ground stabbing them?

  47. Revival-list = Kill List

    lovely film

    I'm with the "anti-christ" or at least role to allow antichrist into world/

    "Human Resources."

    chilling stuff . . .