Saturday, August 12, 2017

Love Kills: "68 Kill" barrels straight into pulpy depravity


68 Kill (2017)
93 min., not rated (equivalent of an R).

Without reading a single page, writer-director Trent Haaga (2011’s “Chop”) seems to have brought Bryan Smith’s 2013 novel of the same name to vividly sleazy life with “68 Kill,” a pulpy, blowsy, down-and-dirty ride of Southern-fried grindhouse depravity steaming with the stench of sex, cigarettes, and gunpowder. Directed with gleefully balls-out abandon, Haaga’s sophomore effort has such an unapologetically crazy, nasty energy and goes in enough surprising directions, but one comes away remembering and wanting more of one thing: AnnaLynne McCord (2012's "Excision" and 2016's "Trash Fire"). She kills it yet again.

Spineless, henpecked Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) flushes septic systems for a living and has been dating and living with the sexy Liza (AnnaLynne McCord) for six months in their Louisiana trailer. Liza gets money by sleeping with her piggish sugar daddy Ken (David Maldonado), but when she hatches a scheme that could give both Chip and her $68,000, Chip reluctantly agrees. As the couple breaks into the loaded scum’s house, Liza already seems to have the endgame in mind without telling her other half, but she goes through with it anyway by killing Ken and his wife. What also isn’t part of the plan is finding a witness named Violet (Alisha Boe), whom Liza forces Chip to throw in the trunk and hand her off to Liza's pervy, homicidal brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson). Shellshocked, Chip ends up getting away from Liza, the hot little psycho that she is, in her red Mustang and making off with Viola, who turns out to be the down-to-earth girl that he needs. Along the way, Chip runs into gothic gas station clerk Monica (Sheila Vand) and her trailer-trash friends that turn his life even more upside down. 

As each woman is presented as a powerful, manipulative, money-grubbing, man-trapping sexpot, a sense of female control bleeds from every shift in the plotting of “68 Kill.” Like a puppy loyal to his owner or a fly stuck in honey (an image the film actually opens with), Chip is a patsy who needs to learn to stick up for himself but just becomes an accomplice to each crime a woman commits. Posited as our hapless protagonist, Matthew Gray Gubler (2014's "Suburban Gothic") has the biggest challenge of keeping Chip a sympathetic and appealing dim-bulb, but he mostly succeeds. With that confidently wicked glint in her eye that never goes out, AnnaLynne McCord relishes the role of Liza, turning in another demented, uninhibited, dangerous, inspired performance with zero fucks to give. Making Liza more obscene and interesting than a conventional femme fatale, McCord remains immensely watchable even as she gets sidelined in the middle section. As Violet and Monica, respectively, Alisha Boe (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) makes a valiant impression, coming the closest to being the film's only sweetheart and pulling M's 1979 pop song "Pop Muzik" out of obscurity while driving into the night with Chip, and Sheila Vand (2014’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) shrewdly plays her part of a cold-blooded sadist whose blood only runs warm when she meets someone more psychotic than her.

Once Chip falls victim to a trailer full of crass, annoying Rob Zombie Movie refugees, "68 Kill" admittedly starts to spin its wheels, the film's pitch-black cheekiness giving way to torture that is no longer fun. Though Chip is inevitably the one who comes out on top in the end, the wish is that the film hadn’t left its two best assets—Liza and Violet—in the dust so much. The viewer might not want to spend any more than 93 minutes with any of these people, but one ends up loving to hate Liza the most. The point of it all might be a bit problematic, but in this case, the wild, often darkly amusing journey is the destination. Never compromising its nihilistic worldview or its adherence to bad taste, “68 Kill” takes its grindhouse aspirations straight to the edge.

Grade: B - 

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