68 Kill (SXSW 2017)
Starring Matthew Gray Gubler, Annalynne McCord, Alisha Boe, Sheila Vand
Directed by Trent Haaga
Screened at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival
Almost infamous enough in the horror indie world to be included on Troma’s Mt. Rushmore, Trent Haaga has risen from the slime-drenched celluloid of films like Terror Firmer and Citizen Toxie to become the accomplished screenwriter of Deadgirl and Cheap Thrills, among others. Apparently, moving into the director’s seat next was the right move as 68 Kill just won the Best Midnighter Audience Award at SXSW 2017.
Teaming up with Snowfort Pictures and producer Travis Stevens, Haaga’s indie ire survives intact as the last shot transpires in 68 Kill; sadly, most of the characters aren’t so lucky after the bloody, fuel-spitting crime spree is finally complete.
All in the span of one horrific, exhilarating night, Chip (Gubler) finally realizes that his sex-crazed girlfriend, Liza (McCord), might be a homicidal maniac and he may, in fact, be a complete and total pussy. Convincing him to help rob her squalid sugar daddy of 68 grand, the evening warps Chip into a seemingly inescapable underworld where everyone he encounters is more depraved than the last. Far from being battle-tested, he’s faced with a choice to either step up and be a man or go out like a punk.
Based on Bryan Smith’s pulp novel, the movie follows the book beat by beat, with only a few minor changes that make sense given the female-driven direction of the film where almost every woman takes advantage. Instead of male fantasies come to life, Chip gets caught up in an endless web of manipulative women who use and abuse him.
68 Kill really is a showcase for the actresses involved with three effective performances by McCord, Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) as Monica, and Alisha Boe as Violet – a hostage turned love interest who becomes the guiding light for Chip. Because of Gubler’s fun take on Chip’s metamorphosis from zero to hero, the constant abuse thrown his way never feels like male bashing.
68 Kill does, however, rely heavily on its quick-paced kinetic mayhem to try to distract from the fact that its source material feels like a watered-down brand of Tarantino Lite, zigging and zagging its way from scene to scene until you overdose on hyper-reality. The material is well suited for Haaga and is a great vehicle for him, but at times the performances don’t keep it from feeling like a retread.
The women of 68 Kill, along with their twisted cohorts, make Chip a man by the end of the film, but not in the same way that Rutger Hauer’s psychopath in The Hitcher forces C. Thomas Howell to transform into a fighter. The difference is that John Ryder makes it his mission to terrorize Jim Halsey into adulthood while the women in 68 Kill degrade Chip without any desire to ever see him grow a pair. It’s always compelling to see a good man sent to the depths finally come into his own, and if the response at SXSW is an indicator, it’s definitely crowd-pleasing to see Chip come out of his shell to dish out a little hell of his own.