Oh, 68 Kill features a psychotic AnnaLynne McCord seducing and shit-kicking her way through country-fried thrills? Why yes, this is exactly my kind of midnight carnage. Wait, it gets better? You bet! This dark comedy marks Trent Haaga’s directorial follow-up to Chop (also co-wrote Cheap Thrills/Deadgirl), and 68 Kill only furthers his catalog of gleeful nastiness. Femininity and masculinity clash in a bumbling Bonnie and Clyde reimagining, with a dash of Tarantino unpredictability. It’s a raucous closing-time nightcap that runs on perfume and blood-soaked booty shorts, because what man wouldn’t kill for Ms. McCord? Brilliant casting, Mr. Haaga. Novelist Bryan Smith should be proud of this adaptation.
Matthew Gray Gubler stars as Chip, the love-struck boyfriend of white-trash vixen Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). She’s the talk of the trailer park. Everyone wants her, but Chip is the lucky guy she goes home with – when not sexing landlords in lieu of late rent. Chip doesn’t mind because Liza swears it means nothing, but the duo grows tired of living in poverty. So, Liza hatches a robbery scheme worth $68,000 if executed correctly, that Chip reluctantly agrees to. Break in, steal the cash and run. Easy, right? It is, until unexpected casualties and a kidnapping change Chip’s life forever.
68 Kill is all about female control, starting with Liza’s leash around little “Chippy.” McCord is a master of sexual hypnosis, and a damn intimidating force. Her sweet, Southern smolder hides a most unhinged persona, but McCord’s greatest talent is distracting from serial killer tendencies with good-girl charm. We know how much trouble Chip is in from the start, but still enjoy his horrified face when Liza drops lines about “getting used to killing” – as in, she’s no newbie. McCord is the brawn, beauty and brains when compared to Chip, even if her intentions are wholly malevolent. Does she actually love Chip? Indeed – and then 68 Kill becomes about Chip letting go. Something Liza can’t stomach.
This is where 68 Kill shifts from a relationship break-in to criminal chase, as Chip runs away with the previously acquired $68K (after he clean-clocks Liza). Gubler’s arc flashes shades of independence, until he meets a gothic madwoman named Monica (Sheila Vand) who – once again – becomes his owner. She steals Chip’s cash and splits – but Chip decides it’s time to man up. He obtains Monica’s address, only to fumble his introduction (no shock). Chip then finds himself being controlled for a second time (albeit in a different way), beaten and abused by a woman far stronger than himself (OK, maybe not so different). Haaga flips common gender norms by allowing McCord and Vand to play bad-girl leaders, as their male lackeys lurk in the background waiting for instructions. Monica is a sick druggie who gets off on violent releases, and Chip has every right to be afraid – something Gubler conveys so, so easily.
Haaga’s command of 68 Kill finds humor in a night filled with surprise cunnilingus, jarred body parts and too many pairs of crazy eyes. Liza’s brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson) buys pretty girls for experiments, Vand’s crony clan takes turns whacking Chip with blunt objects and characters are always infinity eviler than believed. Gruesome kills make for some fleshy defilement, but Haaga still fingers a jovial pulse. Little things like Vand asking Chip if he has any last “dumb” questions before he dies. “Will you let me go?” Even better, Liza seems more worried about Chip being forced to wear flip-flops than his opened baseball bat wounds. Tiny details like Gubler’s girlish scream and his incapable reactions to anything criminal make for an innocence that’s welcome amidst seasoned lunatics. Haaga understands how to balance darkness with light, putting miles between himself and equal B-movie imitators.
Chances are, you know what to expect from 68 Kill – but that doesn’t lessen Trent Haaga’s sophomore feature. A seedy, rubber-burning crime hinging on powerful women that’s too goddamn fun (despite a constant need to rain shit on Matthew Gray Gubler). Genre sensibilities are barbecued with style, Sheila Vand goes all meth-head murderer, but AnnaLynne McCord takes the crown of Queen Bitch with unparalleled confidence. Haaga knows what works, and ensures that we get heavy doses of the good stuff (although more Alisha Boe would have been nice). It might be doe-eyed and lovestruck to a fault, but this wacky gender standoff rocks and rolls as a late-night siren should. Haaga is back, funny and fucked-up as ever.
68 Kills feels like a short Tarantino story; a bloody late-nighter that features an unstoppable genre role for AnnaLynne McCord.
68 Kill Review [SXSW 2017]