25th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ’68 Kill’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Matthew Gray Gubler, AnnaLynne McCord, Alisha Boe, Sheila Vand, Sam Eidson | Written and Directed by Trent Haaga

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Seemingly inhabiting the same universe as Cheap Thrills, the film he co-wrote with David Chirchirillo, 68 Kill, Trent Haaga’s second feature as director (his first being Chop) is a similar deep-dive into the fringes of American society – an underbelly that walks the fine line between morality and depravity. A world where people will do anything for money. Or so it would seem.

Trailer-dwelling, sewage-pumping Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) may not lead the most glamorous life, but he’s got one thing going for him: he’s head over heels infatuated with his girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). He’s more than willing to overlook her wild streak, the fact that she’s hooking up with their landlord and her rather extreme mood swings. So when she proposes a plot to steal $68,000, he goes along with the plan. But when what was supposed to be a simple heist turns into an off-the-rails, blood-spattered crime spree, Chip learns the hard way just how deranged the love of his life really is…

Another product of the Troma school of filmmaking (an honour he shares with a certain James “Guardians of the Galaxy” Gunn), Trent Haaga knows a LOT about making films on a budget. From his stint in front of the camera as the titular Killjoy, to writing films for both Charles Band and Lloyd Kaufman, the majority of this writer/actor/director’s ouevre has, sadly, been confined to the bargain sections of many a DVD store. But don’t let that fool you – Haaga has, over the years, honed his craft to perfection. He knows what audiences want and, better still, he knows how to deliver it. And one thing that has ALWAYS been a trademark of Haaga’s work, from his very first script (which was Toxic Avenger IV fact fans) is the dark humour. His films often delve into very black comedy, so black that they often veer into deeply twisted territory… Just like 68 Kill.

Depravity is also the word of the day when it comes to Haaga’s latest directorial effort. Well, depravity and absurdity – the actions and behaviours of the characters here are so out there they really do border on absurdist comedy cliches, in particular those with whom Chip and Liza interact. But much more than that, Haaga’s central characters also embody the classic stereotypes of film noir: Gubler the lovestruck fool, whilst McCord is the femme fatale. It is of course a trope that star Annalynne McCord has explored numerous times in her career – from the twisted Pauline in Excision to the bitchy Naomi in the 90210 remake – she really knows how to play a femme fatale without effort, be they truly evil or more TV-friendly.

But 68 Kill is not McCord’s film. It’s Gubler’s. Like all good film noir protagonists, Gubler is our hero and here goes on a familiar journey of self-discovery. I’ve seen mention that 68 Kill is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (itself very much influenced by film noir tropes): the same manic characters, the same manic situations, a story told over the course of a night, etc. only here Haaga amps the violence up to 11 and applies no filter to what ensues… Yet the central theme, the core story of our hero, is still the same: Chip goes from a man seemingly beholden to his carnal desires (or maybe just a desire to be loved) to a man who – after a myriad of beatings, bizarre experiences and life-threatening scrapes – finally, finally, learns to be himself and stand on his own two feet. Just a shame he had to kill people to discover himself!

A dark, absurd, hilarious and violent look into Americana, 68 Kill screens at the 2017 Horror Channel Frightfest on Friday August 25th.

*** 3/5

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