Dead Hooker In A Trunk (2009)

First published by Little White Lies

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See a film with a title like Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and you know you are in for some wilfully sleazy exploitation – and in this respect at least, the feature debut from identical twins Jen and Sylvia Soska (who act, write, direct, produce, and do their own stunts) does not disappoint.

As cheap, meretricious and disposable as its titular character, this countercultural road movie may be a puerile mishmash of low-rent clichés and in-your-face transgression (with just a smattering of Weekend at Bernie’s), but it is just about knowing enough to get away with it – as long as you approach it with the right (which is to say lowered) kind of expectation.

“This car is purgatory,” theorises Junkie (Rikki Gagne) who, like all the film’s otherwise anonymous ‘characters’, is designated merely by a stereotyping label in the closing credits. “We’ve all led these messed-up lives so the dude upstairs calling the shots doesn’t know if we’re going up or down.” The car in question is a Pontiac Firebird belonging to Junkie’s friend Badass (Sylvia Soska), a hyper-violent gothgirl who has been coolly offing male aggressors since childhood.

With Badass at the wheel, her twin sister Geek (Jen Soska) – inevitably distinguished by her nerdy glasses – has just picked up Geek’s one-time foster-brother and would-be boyfriend Goody Two-Shoes (LJ Wallis) from his Christian Youth Group, and now this unlikely foursome is about to go on a decidedly less salubrious errand to score some drugs for Junkie, when they discover the body of a hooker (Tasha Moth) in the boot. What to do?

This is, as all Junkie’s words about purgatory suggest, at heart a moral question, but the Soskas do their best to present outrageous scenarios that defy easy ethical evaluation. Badass just wants to dump the corpse – after appropriating the hooker’s anal beads for her own use. Her sister is opposed to this, but does not baulk at allowing a motel manager to have sex with the unresponsive hooker in exchange for a free room – and when Geek eventually turns to the law (“the right thing to do”), the cops that show up will turn out to be unhelpfully corrupt.

Goody Two-Shoes is all for giving the dead whore a “proper burial”, even as his own Church is exposed in all its murderously appetitive hypocrisy. Junkie just wants to get her drugs and get on with her addictions, but it is a decision that will cost her (only half-metaphorically) an arm and a leg.

After Geek’s eyeball is knocked out, leaving her aptly resembling the vindictive heroine of They Call Her One Eye (1973), she and Badass wreak some exultant Old Testament vengeance – only to discover, too late, that they have sliced, ice-picked and power-drilled the wrong man – and there is similar moral confusion surrounding the precise identity of the hooker’s killer. “I can’t believe there aren’t any repercussions for all the things we did,” Badass will say near the end of the film, and viewers will be likely to agree, no matter how much Junkie blathers on meaninglessly about “personal growth” and “the bigger picture.”

Meanwhile in a surreal deus ex machina, God himself shows up in the guise of a Vancouver cabbie, advising Goody Two-Shoes to ‘man up’, and offering the words “Jesus loves everybody” as a bizarre get-out-of-jail-free card that can forgive these wayward characters all their most extreme sins. Appropriately enough, God is played by Carlos Gallardo who, as the star of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992), is a genuine patron saint of guerilla films like this one.

“Well it looks like you managed to escape in your typical Tweety and Sylvester way”, Geek will tell Badass at one point, perfectly capturing the cartoonish tone of a film in which severed arms are stitched back on again with twine, bloody eye-sockets are patched up with masking tape (“You look like an anime character,” comments Goody Two-Shoes), and even the dead hooker briefly comes back to life. Indeed, arbitrariness rules as the four travelers cross paths with a Cowboy Pimp (John Tench), chainsaw-wielding Triads, and a serial killer (Loyd Bateman) with a hilarious backstory to explain his unusual physical deformity.

Quentin Tarantino is clearly the model for all this criss-crossing chaos, even if the narrative structure lacks Tarantino’s sharpness, the dialogue misses his fizz, and the filmmaking wants for his painstaking craft. Leaving aside the riotous score by Fake Shark-Real Zombie!, the location sound recording is at times awful, with no ADR work in evidence where it is most needed – and there is the odd sequence that glaringly lacks light and colour continuity.

Still, the rough edges are all part of the punk appeal in this ultra-low-budget Canadian indie that positively brims with outlaw energy – and if you are looking for pleasures of a better class or quality, what exactly are you doing with a Dead Hooker In A Trunk anyway?

Anton Bitel