Misogynistic exploitation cinema or a study of misogyny? Premiering at this year’s Horror Channel-sponsored FrightFest, director Trent Haaga’s 68 Kill is a violent, button-pushing caper with excellent performances from AnnaLynne McCord and Sheila Vand.
68 Kill opens with the image of a fly trapped in honey. Given that the plot concerns a weak-willed young man (played by Matthew Gray Gubler) terrorised by a succession of crazed women (a symbolic troika of McCord’s Liza, Alisha Boe’s Violet and Vand’s Monica), the film at surface-level treads a dangerous path between misogyny and transgressive anxiety dream about the male fear of emasculation. One thing is for sure, director Trent Haaga isn’t going to make this easy to dissect. Problematic, reactionary, vicious, yet one senses, ultimately, this film is a subversive joke laughing at ridiculous men.
While nightmarish in mood and tone, especially when Chip (Gubler) meets psycho Monica, the film is at its most intriguing in the first act, where Chip and Liza (who is by any definition a fucking nutcase) conspire to rob her sugar daddy of 68,000 dollars. As Chip lacks the guts to kill, he bolts from Liza and drives across Louisiana, with his demented girlfriend in hot pursuit, with 68 Kill playing like a gonzo version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with a succession of characters all wanting to screw luckless Chip out of his ill-gotten gains.
The relationship dynamic between Chip and Liza offers a mixture of readings: S&M-style mistress and sub, the Keatsian Le Belle Dame sans Merci or, what the film ultimately decides it is, an abusive coupling. Liza is no one-dimensional hot babe mentalist, though. Her socioeconomic background (which the other women all exist in) pegs her as a victim and in a man’s world you’ve got to take whatever opportunity you can get. She also knows she’s smoking hot and is entirely aware of her ‘assets’ and treats this, the film infers, with a touch of resentment.
Like Tony Montana says in Scarface: “You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked.” Liza bumping uglies with the sugar daddy to pay the rent and her angst manifests in physical violence toward Chip who she professes to genuinely love. 68 Kill will sit uncomfortably with some, and well it should, for there is unpalatable truths in this indie gem. The film might hinge on one man’s bid for freedom from vixen harridans, but Haaga’s second feature is entirely on their side.