Release Date: August 4, 2017
Director: Trent Haaga
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 96 minutes
When you’re making a movie like 68 Kill, you have to go for broke. A half-hearted approach to a pulpy, neo-exploitation film – nominally adhering to the boundaries of modern sensibilities – will be an undercooked mess. Writer/director Trent Haaga understands this, and in return, gives us something gleefully dark.
68 Kill is brutally violent to the point of excess; the dialogue is endearingly nonsensical; the cinematography is oversaturated and intentionally rough around the edges; the performances are all over-the-top, and yet there is a moral center to the story, proving that there is a method to all the madness. That’s what works – it’s tastefully tasteless.
This is a movie about horrible people doing horrible things to a not-very-horrible person. His name is Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler), and he’s a hapless, well meaning guy who lives in a run-down, rural town with his wilder, more unpredictable girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). The couple barely make ends meet, but she augments his waste disposal salary with her part-time gig turning tricks for a rich local named Ken (David Maldonado).
One day, Liza hatches a plan: they’ll break into Ken’s tacky McMansion, and while he and his wife are asleep, the two will lift $68,000 in cash that resides in a vault. Chip is hesitant. It all seems way too risky. But Liza says that she’s got it all figured out, and, after describing how they’ll be able to take the money and skip town, she claims that it can all go off without hitch.
Of course, we don’t go to the movies to see plans go off without a hitch. The robbery is horribly botched. Liza kills the homeowners and kidnaps a witness, a young woman named Violet (Alisha Boe). Chip panics; abandons the scene with the car and the girl in the trunk; and, in the process, winds up in various stages of trouble. He’s harboring an abductee, fleeing a double murder, and worst of all, now at odds with an increasingly unhinged Liza. His resolute lack of willpower and street smarts count against him, too. Soon, he finds himself entangled in a sticky, messy web; on the run, but never able to get very far away, in a series of events that keep going from bad to worse.
68 Kill knows its grindhouse inspiration front and back, and so the plot is as lurid as the visuals – many deliciously evil twists fill Haaga’s screenplay, based on a novel by Bryan Smith. The entertainment value in watching a film like this is to see how perverse the path from start to finish has been. Matthew Gray Gubler is put in a position where one has to say that, at the very least, he’s a good sport, playing a character sent through the wringer six ways from Sunday.
He gets the plot and the needs of the genre, giving a performance which isn’t subtle, but still complex: at turns wry, unguarded, and resolved. His is the most grounded role that can be seen in this movie, as many of Gubler’s co-stars dial it up to eleven for their parts; with a supporting cast that ranges from the manic to the straight-up psychopathic, there’s always a new caricature to be introduced.
Haaga and company envision a world that is less horrific, and more humorous. It’s ingrained in the script’s DNA, with one-liners at the forefront and a simmering sense of self-aware disbelief at the back. 68 Kill works because it’s as funny as it is bloody, and it’s very bloody. This isn’t a soulless hack-job of stylistic imitation, but rather a formed and functional work of creeping satire, aimed at both its forebears and the setting itself. Haaga carves out an interesting path, which includes some gutsy space for commentary, however rudimentary, on gender roles and personal autonomy.
Ultimately, the film does suffer from the limitations of its premise, and does little to dispel the notion that these kinds of thinly-weaved stories are more suitable as short subjects than features. It’s rather episodic, moving from one mishap to another, progressing in intensity, yet never in structure. 68 Kill is a one-trick pony for a limited audience. But there are few regrets to be had if you can perform that trick with great energy, and Haaga certainly does. It’s midnight movie magic, sawing through sequences (and bodies) which will play to the certain delight of a packed house in a spirited mood. This isn’t for everyone, maybe not even the more discriminating members of its ilk, but there’s a panache to its winking nastiness that can’t be ignored.