Cheerfully Repugnant 68 Kill a Frustrating Romantic Heist
When home sewage drainage specialist Chip’s (Matthew Gray Gubler) escort girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord) comes to him with a proposal to abscond with a cool $68,000 from her current sugar daddy (and their trailer park landlord) Ken Mckenzie (David Maldonado), the nondescript wimp decides it’s best to go along with her plan. Entering into his sprawling mansion, filled top to bottom with all of the wealthy misogynist’s big game hunting trophies, things initially go as planned, the pair finding the cash with zero effort at all. But after Liza slits a sleeping Mckenzie’s neck, kills his trophy wife (Kelly Connolly) and throws their housekeeper Violet (Alisha Boe) into the trunk of their car, it’s instantly clear to cuckold Chip that the professed love of his life has more than few psychological screws loose.
Things get worse. After Liza claims she’s going to “sell” Violet to her murderously demented brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson), Chip decides he’s had enough. He takes off with the kidnapped housekeeper still tied up in the trunk of the car and the money they nabbed from the Mckenzies sitting in the passenger seat. But things get even stranger from there, especially after a stop to get gas sparks a few macabre ideas inside the mind of the station’s gothic nihilist of a clerk, Monica (Sheila Vand). As for Liza, she’s not one to go quietly into the night with her tail tucked between her legs, especially considering all she wants is for Chip to go back to being her loving submissive lapdog jumping to attention at her every command.
If I did not know going in that the exploitation thriller-comedy 68 Kill was sprung from the unhinged mind of Cheap Thrills and Deadgirl writer Trent Haaga, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if I had learned this information after watching the film. Based on the book by Bryan Smith, this sophomore directorial outing for Haaga (he helmed 2011’s gruesomely nasty horror-comedy Chop) is as off the rails crazy as it is energetically imaginative. This story never quite goes in the direction I was anticipating, the last third a bloodcurdling descent into revoltingly juvenile torture, madness and depravity the likes of which that had me disgusted and intrigued in just about equal measure.
Obviously, a movie like this won’t be for everyone. It’s nasty, at times purposefully offensive and close to being abhorrently nihilistic. The way it treats one of its featured female characters is borderline inexcusable, and if not for Boe’s determinedly complex, ferociously likeable performance it’s possible I might have hated this movie based in large part on how Violet is treated. But then, every female character in this story, not just the core trio of Liza, Violet and Monica, are all sensationalistic caricatures of one sort of another, broadly disturbing creatures of personal desire and carnal carnivorous delights that’s oftentimes upsettingly vile.
There is something to be said about an exuberantly malevolent exploitation thriller such as this making the women the primary crazies ready and willing to do all the nasty stuff, to put them front and center as the violent engine this blood-soaked vehicle is powered by. Even more could be made about the fact that Chip is an ineffectual a male protagonist who continually takes the feminine role in whatever relationship he finds himself in. But this gender role reversal can only take you so far, and for as adventurous and as somewhat radical as this take might be from purely a genre perspective, I’m not sure it is enough to minimize the level of outright cruelty levied towards the characters and, in some instances at least, the audience itself that Haaga’s film sometimes inflicts.
And yet, Gubler, arguably best known for his long stint on television’s “Criminal Minds,” is a total hoot as the ineffectual Chip. I loved an extended scene where he’s forced to ask a kindly motel manager for assistance after all his belongings are mysteriously stolen from him, the mixture of fear, dread, apprehension and determination he is able to effortlessly showcase during this sequence just plain wonderful. Then there is McCord. So terrific in 2012’s disquieting horror offering Excision, she’s an over-the-top creature of destruction and chaos here, her depiction of Liza a full-on cartoonish explosion of unbridled homicidal energy wickedly outstanding.
Haaga directs with confident flair, and it’s apparent he picked something up watching how E.L. Katz navigated through the zany disturbing layers of his and David Chirchirillo’s script for Cheap Thrills back in 2013. The laughs, as bleak and as bloody as they might be, are usually genuine, coming from an absurd place of rancid depraved degeneracy that’s pitilessly eccentric. In turn, the shocks are equally authentic, as are the surprises, and having never read Smith’s source material I admit to being entirely unprepared for the third act twists and turns, especially when Monica merrily reenters the picture in all her sadistic glory.
All of which makes me wish I liked 68 Kill more than I did. There are elements of this movie that have left a bad taste in my mouth that will not wash away, pieces of it that I cannot reconcile no matter how good the performances might be or how self-assured Haaga’s direction is. As a fan of exploitation schlock, one who has extolled the virtues of motion pictures made with far less skill and attention to detail than this one showcases, my being dissatisfied here is admittedly somewhat stunning. With that in mind, I’ll give Haaga’s latest a second chance at some point in the very near future. For right now, though, I’m too frustrated by the stuff that keeps me ill at ease to give it a pass, the uglier aspects of this hellacious road trip into madness rubbing me too far the wrong way.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)