Streaming Releases: 68 Kill (2017) - Reviewed

Trent Haaga's follow up feature, 68 Kill is a hyper violent, trailer park noir homage to the VHS wastelands of the late ‘90s. Populated with memorable, morally reprehensible characters and gratuitous sex and violence, Haaga's septic tank crime caper is an obscene daydream that subverts conventional story elements to convey a low rent Bonnie and Clyde story for modern times, steeped in excessive bodily fluids and an unrepentant disregard for propriety that would make John Waters proud. 

Chip is a mild manner sewage worker whose duplicitous girlfriend Liza convinces him to help her steal 68,000 dollars from her lecherous landlord. When things predictably go awry, Chip sets off on an unapologetic journey of self-discovery through violent showdowns and repulsive sexual encounters. Matthew Gray Gubler continues to boast his cult classic charm as Chip. One of 68 Kill's many merits is that at its core, it is a film about the power of women and how differently they wield that power in the context of a fleabag microcosm of destitution. Gubler knows this truth and his Chip, while showing flashes of courage, is more or less a helpless contributor to the mayhem. He is a symbolic hero who is dangerously passive at times and yet oddly heroic at others. Gubler's nuanced approach to material that is quite frankly, insane, grounds the film so that it never goes so far as to turn the viewer away. 

AnnaLynne McCord's performance as Liza has all the attributes of the best kind of bad decision. From the moment she appears, her terrible purpose, and more importantly, her murderous potential is apparent, and yet, the viewer (by way of Chip) can't seem to extricate themselves from the scarlet wake of her unfettered rapine. McCord steals every second of screen time, building off her push-pull chemistry with Gubler to build a strong sense of identity behind her nymphomaniac mistress. Liza is a woman who has been forged by the world around her, particularly by her treatment by men and authority figures. Rather than recede into the darkness of depression and submission, she chooses to use her unhinged fury to an advantage, creating a memorable character that, despite her wretchedness, the audience can't help but root for.

Alisha Boe rounds out the cast as a hostage turned love interest, whose central scene with Gubler has some of 68 Kill's most hilarious exchanges. This is a film about excess that refuses to accept any form of polite limitation and Boe's raw sexuality breaks with the synthetic seduction of McCord to present yet another contrast of female archetypes, the result of which delivers the film's most shocking and heart wrenching moments. 

Welcome to the jungle baby

While some of the violence is regrettably CGI, Needham Smith's invasive cinematography captures the sweat soaked sheets and blood splattered walls with a ferocity uncommon for a picture such as this. Foggy red neons give way to putrescent browns as the camera hovers unobtrusively close to the players, be it in soiled backseats or disgusting criminal dens of iniquity. This uncomfortable presentation combines with Theodore Zaleski’s ingenious art direction to ensure that the potentially dreary subject matter always remains elevated in the absurd. 

If there is a flaw, it is that Haaga's script cannot maintain the potent level of style that fills the first act and the energy fades as the story moves from crime caper to romance to revenge fodder in a matter of minutes. Regardless, Haaga's final product is a deft piece of violence that will surely find its way into the hearts of cult cinema fans across the world, if only for the reckless abandon of its maniacal central performances.

Share the madness.   

-Kyle Joanthan