As demented and blood-soaked a road trip movie as you’re ever to see, 68 Kill transcends its violent and pulpy midnight movie roots by telling a perpetually unpredictable story that shatters expectations and denies genre conventions. Writer/director Trent Haaga gives you the blood, sex, and violence that you would expect in a film slated for a 12:00 am premiere, but presents them in a way that elevates them to something unexpectedly empowering.
Matthew Gray Gubler stars as Chip, a name that just exudes minimal masculinity and a child-like lack of confidence, which is perfect because he’s convinced he’s happy with Liza, a textbook psycho of a girlfriend played by AnnaLynne McCord. The sex-crazed, manipulative Liza ropes Chip into a plot to rob her sugar daddy of $68,000 so they can better their life together, but (as most cinematic pursuits of the American dream play out) absolutely nothing goes to plan. In fact, things turns catastrophically violent almost immediately, with Chip finding himself an accomplice to both murder and kidnapping. He doesn’t have much time to dwell on the specifics of his predicament, since maybe this will finally be the thing that gets Liza to say “I love you.” And that’s just the first ten minutes or so. The remaining 80 minutes of 68 Kill unfold in increasingly twisted and hilarious fashion. It’s the kind of movie that will play very well to established fans of genre movies but will also easily convert new followers into its ranks.
Writer/director Trent Haaga gives you the blood, sex, and violence that you would expect in a film slated for a 12:00 am premiere, but presents them in a way that elevates them to something unexpectedly empowering.
Both in concept and execution, 68 Kill could have been a schlocky, misogynistic nightmare, but in the hands of Haaga the material ends up playing out like an empowering breakup movie. Haaga’s deft touch is an obvious factor here, and he successfully injects his film with a heightened sense of reality that reveals itself to be the key element to the film’s success. Nothing ever feels too over the top, though. Haaga knows when to pull back and let his movie breathe (but never coast), imbuing his story with shades of touching emotion and palpable humanity. Yes, this movie is funny and twisted, but it also has heart.
It’s miraculous and rare just how well 68 Kill blends style and substance, as countless movies end up successfully pulling off one while losing the other. Trent Haaga, who has an eclectic acting resume himself, extracts kinetic and energetic performances from his actors in a way that complements his movies style rather than dictating it. Gubler is great at playing a well-meaning doofus, and it’s satisfying and entertaining to see Chip finally come into his own. He shares great chemistry with costar Alisha Boe, portraying the unassumingly strong-willed Violet. She gives Chip an enticing first glimpse into what a two-sided relationship is actually like, instantly joining the ranks of kick-ass characters like Ripley and Furiosa. Speaking of relationships, AnnaLynne McCord is a goddamn powerhouse as Liza, a force of nature whose presence looms over the rest of the film even when she’s not on screen. Her character is a brilliant fusion of external attraction and internal seediness. So much of the movie rests on her shoulders, and McCord fuels the film from her very first scene.
It’s miraculous and rare just how well 68 Kill blends style and substance, as countless movies end up successfully pulling off one while losing the other.
The rest of the film is populated with a delightful gaggle of eclectic and truly terrifying figures; these aren’t people you want to fuck with. And if you feel the way these characters meet their fates is unfair or sexist, then you’ve probably got bigger fish to fry. At its core, 68 Kill is about people trying to escape from imprisonment, and the way in which they attempt to do that reveal the very nature of their souls. Liza is a whirlwind of an oppressive force that destroys everything around her for her own personal gain, and Chip escapes her only to find himself butting heads with people so revolting that even Leatherface and his family wouldn’t want to have them over for dinner. What’s important here is that Chip finds something worth fighting for, and he finally finds the footing to lash out against anything that would seek to destroy it.
All of these themes are subtext, and 68 Kill is less serious of a film than I’m probably making it out to be. It’s a briskly paced, high-octane ride. Just when you think you’ve got the movie figured out, it veers down a road even more deranged and warped than before. It’s a hilarious and rowdy ride that serves as a brilliant reminder for why watching movies with an audience is such a rewarding experience. There’s an infectious sense of vivacity pumping throughout the film that makes it impossible to view the film passively. Between this and his screenwriting work on Cheap Thrills, Trent Haaga has established himself as an exciting, bold voice that flies in the face of convention. I’m terrified and thrilled to see where he takes us next.
Just when you think you’ve got the movie figured out, it veers down a road even more deranged and warped than before. It’s a hilarious and rowdy ride that serves as a brilliant reminder for why watching movies with an audience is such a rewarding experience.