Right from jump street, writer/director Trent Haaga clues his audience in that Chip and Liza might not set the gold bar for healthy long term relationships. While Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) recovers from the bruising and muscle strains that comes standard with the violent sex his girl needs to get off, Liza (AnneLynn McCord) pretties herself up before going to fuck her rich sugar daddy in order to pay the rent. Chip sulks at the arrangement but Liza reminds him it’s just work, and her boyfriend’s own profession pumping septic systems sure as shit isn’t paying the bills.
Lovesick Chip only wants to make his lady happy no matter the cost. If that means a little breaking and entry in order to rob her sugar daddy of $68,000 while he and his wife sleep, well that’s just the price of being in love with Liza. Chip’s love is put to the test when a simple robbery winds up tacking on a pair of homicides, kidnapping, human trafficking and evading redneck, punk rock trailer park trash hell bent on getting their hands on the cash. While Chip could overlook most of Liza’s eccentricities, this wild eyed, adrenaline junkie fueled on murder and mayhem is a whole new level that lover boy isn’t anywhere near equipped to keep up with.
Traveling similar terrain as his script for Cheap Thrills and his directing debut Chop, Haaga doesn’t do subtle. 68 Kill travels down the rabbit hole of hyperactive violence, akin to a Looney Tunes cartoon sprung to life and thrust into the pages of an Elmore Leonard novel. Haaga approaches putting his characters endangers, violent and sadistic situations with the kind of manic glee reserved for an eight year old tearing ass down the stairs on Christmas morning to discover what’s under the tree. 68 Kill moves at a breakneck pace, rarely taking a moment to breath while Chip has to navigate an ever increasing circumstances that leave him bruised, bloodied and mere moments away from certain death.
Part of the beauty of 68 Kill stems from Haaga reversing the gender dynamics we’re used to seeing in this kind of uber violent, modern noir film. Not only Chip is the one in consistent need of rescue by one of the women in his life, but he’s often reduced to cringing and whimpering mess. He;s the one desperate to hold Liza back and wholly unprepared to handle the level of crazy she brings to the table. Meanwhile, McCord gets to tear up the screen with an off the charts performance. In her hands Liza is fearless, testosterone driven and a take no prisoners bad ass bitch. The badassery isn’t limited to Liza however. Alisha Boe’s Violet shifts the tables on Chip, maneuvering from victim status to the one calling the shots with a few simple machinations. Sheila Vand’s Monica, a punk as fuck gas station attendant offers the third act a real aura of menace while she and her gang torture Chip.
Haaga continues his trajectory as one of the most exciting and masterful commanders of dialogue working today. As demonstrated thorugh his previous work in Cheap Thrills and Chop, no one has the handle on the ultra seedy underbelly of our society like he does. He populates his world with persons so far outside of the margins that no scenario seems to outrageous for them to undertake. With 68 Kill, Haaga delivers a crowd pleasing, high octane thriller that is well worth your time and energy. Heading in to the final day of the festival, it has my vote for best in show thus far.