It was a pleasure, particularly after seeing some less successful low-budget movies (South32, Timechasers) to see a movie that respected its budget and what it could do. So where Timechasers was too ambitious for a low budget film, and South32‘s creators seemed to “phone it in” on crucial plot and dialogue issues, Crush the Skull hits the sweet spot: A fun little caper—”It’s not a caper!” as they say in the movie—thriller that builds heavily on characterization and a fair sense of whimsy.
The whimsical tone is set up in the first scene, as we see a (by now) clichéd situation, where a mother tries to convince her far-too-savvy daughter that the dungeon they’re being kept in is like a game from “Survivor”. They go back-and-forth on it several times, even as the killer comes and does in the mother most gruesomely.
It’s a tricky tonal shift. You have to get the audience to care about the characters, even when the characters are semi-goofy and semi-idiots. But the “funhouse” nature of the film makes it work, along with writer/director Viet Ngueyen’s deft editing.
The story is that a couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) of thieves are going for “one last score” when Ollie’s (producer/co-writer Chris Dinh) better nature gets the best of him, and he ends up in jail. Girlfriend Blair (Katie Savoy) bails him out, but only at the cost of all their reserves, and then some, as provided by a Very Bad Loan Shark. So, they’re back in the saddle.
Blair’s dimwitted brother Connor (Chris Reidell) and his “crew” (a big dumb asian dude, Riley, played by Tim Chiou) are pulling a big job that the two now need to stay out of trouble, and that’s when things go bad. As it turns out, the target is a lair of a serial killer, and while they can get in, they can’t get out.
Although there’s about one hall and maybe two or three rooms (which I doubt are anywhere near the aboveground part of the house), the camera shifting, the darkness, the editing all conspire to make it seem like there’s a real maniac’s underground labyrinth, full of traps and remote-controlled doors and cameras and what-not.
It’s nicely done. And when the characters talk, even when they’re being goofy, we’re typically learning something about their character. And, while it’s silly, a lot of the reactions they have are the ones you or I or any regular person would have in a similar situation. So, the whole thing stays on the right side of “not taking itself too seriously” instead of “not respecting the time the audience is giving you”.
I think that’s my biggest beef with modern low budget flicks. 40 years ago, you needed something to make out to in the drive in, or to fill the time. Now there’s a near infinite list of choices, including incredible classics of cinema, and by far the scarcest resource people have to divvy up is time. I like it when a movie respects that and knows it has more to do than just get me in the door.
The Boy liked it a great deal. And even though it was only playing at 10PM, the Flower came, and also enjoyed it greatly.