With films like Deadgirl and Cheap Thrills on his screenwriting resume, it only makes sense that Trent Haaga’s sophomore feature would be something weird, hard, and wicked. 68 Kill, premiering at SXSW and screening at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival, delivers on all those expectations – an insane, lurid Southern Gothic thriller that introduces some seriously freaky characters.
Horror veterans Matthew Gray Gubler and AnnaLynne McCord are Chip and Liza, a sexy but cash-strapped couple who – in one of the film’s best lines – “shovel shit and suck dick for a living.” Liza bullies Chip into robbing her sugar daddy, but Chip hardly realized how psychotic his girlfriend really is. Soon he finds himself embroiled in a circle of murderers, sex maniacs and truly nasty women as he tries to overcome his crippling lack of spine.
There’s no shortage of strange in this film. Haaga’s script is quick and hilarious, taking a number of turns into bizarre darkness that may confound viewers but undoubtedly keep momentum high. Unlike the realism-turned-absurd atmosphere of Cheap Thrills, this film’s environment never feels real – it’s a sweaty, grimy underworld full of weirdos and crazies that contrast Chip’s weakness terrifically. The cinematography and production design accentuate Haaga’s writing in their strong colors and unpleasant details, creating a necessary sense of place to anchor the wackiness.
But the actors are the true stars of this madness. Gubler and McCord are no strangers to weird cinema, and McCord especially shines as the psychopathic, fast-talking Liza. Alisa Boe gives a solid performance as Violet, whose character offers plenty of surprises. Sheila Vand – the Girl who walks home alone at night – murders it as a Winona Ryder-style murderess. These women absolutely steal the show, taking what could have been a sensationalized, seedy melodrama and making it totally badass. Haaga directs them well, too, pitting them against Gubler in ways that constantly twist expectations.
The gender politics and meditations on masculinity are still very male-centric, mostly because Chip is the focus of the film and the women surrounding him are classically grotesque caricatures – not necessarily a bad thing, because they’re so vivid and well-performed. It’s refreshing to see female characters driving the action in a thriller like this, as McCord’s character mentions in the latter half. This could have been even more fascinating, had these women been given the same depth that Chip is – then again, this is Southern Gothic, where everything is blown crazily out of proportion.
The film’s insanity will exhaust many viewers, and sometimes the plot struggles to keep up with the style; the ending veers into directions that some may find frustrating as well. But for those seeking a viciously violent, amazingly cast and hilarious thriller, 68 Kill delivers on levels that few recent efforts have. This film’s singular vision of the dark side is brutally entertaining. Its idea of gender and masculinity are more old-fashioned than they need to be, but that doesn’t stop the female leads from giving balls-to-the-wall incredible performances. For this alone, this one is worth watching. This brand of insanity doesn’t come along often.