Ollie (Chris Dinh, "Crush the Skull" short) assures wife Blair (Katie Savoy) that the house they're about to rob will be their last before traveling for a while then settling down. But things go hilariously awry, leaving them in debt to a mobster. Forced to throw in with Blair's dumb, bumbling brother Connor (Chris Riedell, "Fruitvale Station") and his 'crew' Riley (Tim Chiou, "Crossing Over"), the foursome hit a remote home that's designed to keep its serial killer owner's (Walt Bost) victims inside in "Crush the Skull."
This Kickstarter-funded film from cowriter (with star Chris Dinh)/director/editor Viet Nguyen (TV's 'iZombie') is a gem of a horror comedy making its way onto VOD. If last year's VOD find "The Final Girls" made hay by sending up genre conventions, this one's firmly rooted in character. Featuring artful photography (Tuan Quoc Le and John Nguyen) tightly edited by its director (the killer's first appearance is meticulously choreographed), "Crush the Skull" is far worthier of your time than most of what passes for commercial comedy these days - if you can take some splatter.
The film opens with its most horrific moment, a young girl (Devyn Stokdyk) shackled in a concrete room with creepy toys and a security camera. Nguyen doesn't stint in foreshadowing what his protagonists will be up against. His introduction of the smart half of his quartet turns the tables on them not once, but twice, Ollie's hilarious impersonation of a police officer not only establishing his basic good intentions but circling back for a well placed comedic slap.
Connor suffers from low self esteem, so lays ground rules for his job - he's to be the leader, he must be treated with respect. Leaving their most valuable player, Ollie, as lookout, one by one ventures inside and doesn't return. Ollie crashes in through a skylight to find concrete walls, bulletproof glass and all ways of entry locked from the outside. Blair shows him an unsettling discovery - a stack of snuff DVDs all shot within the house.
The film's inventive cinematography, which frames its characters like the Scooby Doo gang, has been aided by its production design, canvas shades within the killer's house providing beautiful, softly muted light. The home's floor plan tips its hat to "Saw II" with its series of locking chambers. Original music by David Frank Long complements the action with exaggerated violins and heartbeat percussion. But all would be for nought without the witty script and above average acting. Here's a screenplay that's careful to give its two intellectually challenged characters redemptive scenes yet shameless enough to stop its action to repeat a goofy gag (and get that second laugh). Despite a small borrow from "The Poughkeepsie Tapes," Dinh and Nguyen have come up with something that keeps upending our expectations. The film's only minor failing is its villain, a bland serial killer whose threat is more ominous than his presence.
"Crush the Skull" is a laugh out loud winner, economical in both resources and running time. At a time when Hollywood is focused on diversity, it's refreshing to see two Asian actors cast in lead roles that have nothing to do with their heritage.
Robin also gives "Crush the Skull" a B.
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