GENRE MASH-UPS generally aren't known for their subtlety, with the majority of the filmmaker's energy spent figuring out how to get their aliens and cowboys, vampires and mobsters, or mummies and the debate team together in the same frame. (Note: If that last scenario actually exists, please notify me immediately.) The much-hyped Tarantinoid horror movie Kill List certainly doesn't want for showily overt moments (most notably a bit with a hammer that might make even the most jaded splatter fan cringe), but, more impressively, also succeeds on generating a mightily effective slow-burn aura of unease. While it's screaming in your face, it's also quietly creeping up behind you.
Director/co-writer Ben Wheatley's film follows a combat-shocked British hitman (Neil Maskell) trying to pick up the pieces after a botched job in Kiev. In an attempt to keep his family together, he accepts a lucrative trio of contracts, only to learn that he really should have checked the fine print first. (Most reputable businessmen don't require a signature in blood, even in this day and age.) I'm not giving anything else away.
Wheatley, whose previous film was the impressively modulated gangster movie Down Terrace, isn't afraid to set an initially deliberate pace, with a talky first half that may bring on the fidgets. The small odd moments soon begin to mount, however, creating an atmosphere that makes the scenes of gory carnage almost seem a relief. By the time Kill List reaches its already notorious ending sequence, all of the movie's discordant elements—a protracted dinner scene, an unusually placid victim, the increasingly unsympathetic protagonist—come together to shuddery effect, with a ferocity that had me jabbing my theater seat for a rewind switch. And if the final, enigmatic shot means what I think it does, bump this sucker up even higher.