68 Kill (2017)

Hard to believe it’s been a full decade since Grindhouse, don’t you think? Even stranger to think that a film which was deemed a box office catastrophe proved to have such a legacy, inspiring scores of low-budget filmmakers to try their hand at vintage-flavoured exploitation, to such an extent that ten years on grindhouse is pretty firmly established as a genre (or subgenre) in its own right. A single image from such a movie tells you pretty much all you need to know; take, for example, the picture of 68 Kill actress AnnaLynne McCord to the left. She’s blonde, she’s beautiful, there’s blood on her face, she looks certifiably insane, and she’s driving a car. All of which makes it clear as day that 68 Kill is basically Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for the post-torture porn crowd. I caught director Trent Haaga’s film at Celluloid Screams Horror Festival, where it screened at 12am Friday night; very wise scheduling, as this is prime midnight movie material that plays great with a crowd, and even better if at least mildly inebriated. Whether it would hold up quite so well stone cold sober in the harsh light of day, I’m not quite so sure, but I can safely say I had a lot of fun with this lurid, self-consciously nasty piece of work.

Still, while McCord and her fellow femme fatales Alisha Boe (Paranormal Activity 4) and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) may dominate the poster/DVD cover, the real central character in 68 Kill is a guy – who, wouldn’t you know it, has a major weakness for beautiful women. Matthew Gray Gubler (Suburban Gothic, TV’s Criminal Minds) is Chip, a trailer park resident who works part time in sanitation and has very little going for him, aside from his stunning girlfriend Liza (McCord). However, calling her ‘stunning’ doesn’t just apply to her looks: she’s an impulsive, aggressive character, enormously over-enthusiastic in the bedroom, and rather demanding of her more mild-mannered lover. When we meet Chip, he’s covered in bites, scratches and bruises from the night before, but it seems that not all of this is purely from rough sex. Though he seems unwilling to admit it to himself, Chip is trapped in an abusive relationship; but, believing himself to be in love with Liza and doubting he’ll ever get so lucky again, he can’t help but bend to her will. However, this reserve is pushed to breaking point when Liza bullies him into helping her rob the home of her wealthy landlord, who she has learned has $68,000 stashed in his bedroom safe. Naturally the heist doesn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, and Chip soon finds himself on the run from the woman he loves – but Liza isn’t the only beautiful and insane woman he’ll cross paths with in the long, eventful 24 hours ahead.

There are, of course, many grounds on which 68 Kill – adapted for the screen by Haaga, from a novel by Bryan Smith – might be regarded very timely at this point in 2017. The subject of sexual abuse, and women being forced into prostituting themselves, comes up more than once, with bloody retribution soon meted out at those responsible. However, as is no doubt readily apparent by now, not one of the women in 68 Kill would seem to fit the description of victim. These, again, are women in the Faster Pussycat mould, meaning they take no shit, drive as hard and punch as hard as any of the men they run into; indeed, significantly harder when the man in question is Gubler’s Chip, a man whose picture could appear in the dictionary alongside ‘pussy-whipped.’

Inevitably, any film that hinges so heavily on a man’s encounters with a succession of women will invite some discussion of its sexual politics, and in some moments these do leave a bad taste: while we’re quite reasonably invited to be outraged at young women being forced into sex slavery, the sexual abuse that Chip endures is more than once played for laughs. At the same time, given that much of the film centres on Chip getting payback on the women who have wronged him, there are doubtless some who might condemn 68 Kill as a misogynistic fantasy endorsing violence against women.

Of course, on the other hand we could just forget such concerns and go along for the ride. Unsavoury overtones are part and parcel to exploitation; if it was all in good taste, there’d be no damn point. And you’ll certainly need a taste for the unsavoury to get along with 68 Kill, as it does get pretty distasteful at times; but even so, in a curious way it never feels entirely mean-spirited, and I think this is again down to Gubler’s performance as Chip, who somehow remains an optimistic, kind-hearted soul even when the world seems determined to show him nothing but ugliness. I think it’s safe to say we could all use a touch of that spirit in the world today. But again, this really isn’t a movie you come to for life lessons. If you’re after some trashy fun, with energetic performances and direction, smirk-inducing dialogue, a toe-tapping soundtrack, and more than a few wince-inducing moments of oh-no-they-didn’t, you could do a great deal worse than this.

Following on from its festival screenings, 68 Kill will be released to DVD and Blu-ray on 27 November, from Studiocanal.