It’s testament to Ben Wheatley that, as the credits rolled at the preview of his film Kill List, the hardened, weathered critic sat adjacent to i-D turned, hollowed-eyed and breathless, and murmured ‘What the f*ck was that…’
Made for less than the catering budget on most Working Title films, Wheatley has entirely dumb-founded the brow-beaten world of wandering journos with his part occult horror, part kitchen sink thriller Kill List. Released by WARP films, with a performance both aggressive, soulful, tragic and implacable from Neil Maskell – who may be the next big thing – Kill List looks set to shake a proud genre to its core.
British horror has been left to die on its knees. This is a shot of adrenaline to its heart – a social realist film that’s genuinely horrific, that has meaningful violence, with authentic characters with real problems, with unpredictable, mercurial, switchblade direction, with visceral performance.
i-D sat down with director Ben Wheatley, Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring to talk about their frustration with British horror and social realism, and how that pushed them to make Kill List…
NM: There seems to be this fashion – I’ve read it half a dozen times over the last year – of young British directors talking about how they were fed and couldn’t watch another film set on a council estate in the north somewhere, as though those films lack entertainment. I’ve heard people say that they didn’t enjoy Nil By Mouth, Riff Raff and Fish Tank because they didn’t connect with the character. For me, you might as well say ‘I lack empathy as a human being, so what I’d really like to see is mindless violence and glib one-liners. That’s what I really enjoy – things that lack soul or core.’ What’s interesting about Kill List is that not only do both those things work themselves, but there’s room to combine stuff and make it more interesting and maybe audiences, unlike those filmmakers, can empathize with those characters.
BW: Films like that have taken these characters away from the tropes and the clichés and the genres they exist in, they’ve humanized them. They are imperfect beings on screen.
MB: And that’s exactly rare. All characters are to each other are the means within a plot to move to somewhere else. They affect each other. But to not have two-dimensional humans doing that to each other as a simple plot device is really, really exciting. I definitely didn’t get into this business because I wanted to play some blonde running around in her underwear.
BW: Well… that’s Kill List Two actually.
MB: Oh yeah, I forgot [laughs].
BW: The thing is, where are these dour social realist films that everyone complains about? What is the kitchen sink? What is the keystone kitchen sink movie that everyone seems to keep talking about? It’s like a collective memory of something that doesn’t quite seem to exist. The original kitchen sink stuff is something like L-Shaped Room, and that couldn’t be any more different than the accusations always thrown at social realist movies. I suppose you have the TV dramas in the seventies and eighties, the Alan Clarke films like Rita, Sue and Bob Too. But I don’t think they’re the films that these people are thinking about.
NM: Andrea Arnold isn’t middle class. What I find wearing is that it’s generally middle-class people saying those films are made by middle class people for middle class people. They’ve never been on an estate in their lives. Nil By Mouth was made in the famously middle-class area of New Cross. What utter nonsense that is.
The main reason these films were made back in the 70s and early 80s – the films of Alan Clarke and Ken Loach – was because they were trying to get away from the establishment of the time. They were trying to get away from the fact that the film industry, in both subject and participants, was sewn-up. It was a closed shop, and they were a response to that.
Kill List is released in UK cinemas today. Do if you dare…
Text: Tom Seymour