68 Kill (2017)

68 Kill first published by SciFiNow

Adapted from Bryan Smith’s 2013 novel of the same name, Trent Haaga’s 68 Kill opens with the image of a fly trapped in honey, followed by the sight of Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) transfixed with adoration as he watches his girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord) sleeping by his side. The suggestion that Chip may be the trapped fly is quickly borne out by the scratches and bruises that he bears, post-coitally, on his body, by the further blows that he willingly takes when this “bad fucking girl” wakes up, and by the warnings of Clint (James Moses Black), Chip’s employer as a sewage pump operator, that all male mistakes can be blamed on “sweet pussy”. Completing this honey analogy, Liza gets called ‘sugar plum’ and ‘sweet’ by her sugar daddy Ken Mckenzie (David Maldonado). Chip will do anything that his beloved asks, which includes joining her to break into Ken’s home and lift the $68,000 locked in his safe. “In and out like it’s nothing,” Liza reassures her besotted if sceptical boyfriend, “Nobody gets hurt, and then you and me, we get to live happily ever after.” The trap is set.

Of course things do go wrong, people do get hurt, and soon Chip finds himself fleeing crazy Liza and her even crazier brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson), while falling fast for Violet (Alisha Boe), the lingerie-clad woman they abducted from the Mckenzie mansion. As he speeds into the night, Chip will cross paths with other women who want a piece of him, like gothy gas station attendant Monica (Sheila Vand) and her cunnilingus-craving colleague Amy (Hallie Grace Badley) – before he finally stands up for what he wants.

Leads Gubler and McCord have been regulars in the films of Richard Bates Jr (Excision, Suburban Gothic, Trash Fire), and Troma veteran Haaga – who, having directed Chop (2011) and co-written E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills (2013), knows his way around the darkly funny side of horrific scenarios – here captures something of Bates’ manic hyperrealism in this madcap, heavily gendered caper down the backroads of low-rent America. Not that it is quite as woman-hating as it may sound – for with his edgy screenplay for Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s Deadgirl (2008), Haaga has a proven record for subverting misogynies and gynophobias to expose the weakness and complicity of men, and here, it is Chip who is the ‘pussy’, and Chip who, to find his own strengths, must become more like the women around him.

© Anton Bitel