Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Trent Haaga
Writer: Trent Haaga, Bryan Smith
Producer: Travis Stevens, Bob Portal, David Lawson Jr.
Stars: Matthew Gray Gubler, AnnaLynne McCord, Alisha Boe, Sheila Vand, Sam Eidson, James Moses Black, Ajay Mehta, Michael Beasley, David Maldonado, Hallie Grace Bradley, Lucy Faust, Peter Jaymes, Eric Podnar
A submissive man’s life is turned upside-down after his sociopathic girlfriend convinces him to help steal $68,000.
We’ve all been Chip at some point. Hopelessly infatuated with someone inexplicably irresistible, yet about as good for us as a trip to Willy Wonka’s factory is for a kid with diabetes. We know it can only end in disaster, though our misinformed hearts throw us head over heels into willfully dumb decisions anyway.
Chip’s case takes clouded judgment to extremes. He does mundane work draining sewage and comes home to a trailer furnished with barely a pot to piss in. No wonder he succumbs so easily to the spell cast by batsh*t bombshell Liza. She may have a side job as a hooker, but she’s a sultry, uninhibited dynamo who plays by her own rules. In short, Liza is everything Chip isn’t, making her a white-hot whirlwind of excitement he just can’t say no to.
That includes Liza’s proposition to steal $68,000 from a sugar daddy she sleeps with to pay rent. Although eternally subservient to all of her whims and desires, Chip has just enough willpower to pose one stipulation: he’ll help Liza jack the cash provided she promises no one gets hurt.
Well, someone gets hurt, and that’s only the tip of an unavoidable iceberg with Chip at the helm of the Titanic. An unexpected act involving Liza and a knife drop kicks the first domino, setting off a chaotic chain of events that has Chip on the run from one outrageously dangerous situation to the next, encountering thieves, sexpots, serial killers, and more slaughter than he can stand along the way.
“68 Kill” is a story of sex, violence, money, and how shocking it can be for a rolling snowball to become an avalanche of anarchy. Trent Haaga’s film, adapted from Bryan Smith’s novel, gets down in the gutter for a field trip on the trailer trash side of the tracks. Here, Haaga gets the goods from creepy characters, slutty sensuality, and bold bloodshed to stitch up a grimy feel that is as close to an exploitation era aesthetic as a contemporary crime thriller can get.
“68 Kill” gets away with its gobs of grindhouse grain by slathering scenery in deeply dark humor and switching stereotypes regarding which sex wields the power. There might even be a term paper in here for a creative college student exploring gender role reversals in film.
When Chip is extorted into forcibly performing oral sex on a gas station skank in exchange for essential information, the setup is played for laughs that come while watching Matthew Gray Gubler move his mouth toward a groin sore or dry heaving afterward. Swap the man and the woman in this situation and tone would take a terrible turn.
These kinds of characterizations and turned tables keep mature material edging toward entertaining instead of toward uncomfortable. “68 Kill” is unafraid to rip open its shirt and show its skin, and then rip open its skin to show the guts underneath. That unapologetic fierceness about presenting visceral violence and sex wants to be in your face, and it is. Yet there is a soft subtly to Chip’s hard luck sweetness layering in surprisingly smirky enjoyment underneath.
Right now, I regret having already cited the “directing is 50% casting” adage in a preceding review because the notion applies as much here as anywhere. I, and likely anyone associated with the movie too, cannot conceive of a personality more fitting to play Chip than Matthew Gray Gubler. Gubler’s relatable good guy demeanor swings all sympathies to his side, yet he retains an understated steeliness positioned perfectly for all of the hats Chip has to wear to reach his finish line.
As Liza, AnnaLynne McCord embodies the sexual napalm of John Mayer’s dreams. McCord’s siren-like stride commanding control of her screen with wildly wicked eyes sells the scare of psychotic instability while simultaneously showcasing seductive charm. Like Gubler in his, there is no person more perfect for her part.
Although blackly comic, “68 Kill” is gritty and sleazy through and through, so much so that some won’t jive with its violent vibe. I personally thought the texture would turn my thumb down until I saw deeper into the acting and realized the story was not in fact focused on being sordidly smutty. You only have to dip past the surface of its cult cinema carnage. Because the film’s raunchy rawness is essential to servicing its pulp fiction narrative about perverted power plays.
Review Score: 75