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Comedy Torture Porn
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12th Jul 11
A mysterious man makes a reformed junkieís life a living hell... for some reason.
Actor, writer and graduate of Tromaís school of indie trashmaking, Trent Haaga makes his directorial debut with Chop, a none more black comedic thriller which riffs on torture flicks and revenge movies. Haaga wrote 2008ís zombie rape parable Deadgirl which was the very definition of love it or hate it horror (i personally fell squarely into the former). His first film as director is likely to garner a similar response but for very different reasons.
Former junkie Lance (Will Keenan) does not get an easy time of it at all. Before the title card has even come up heís been drugged, kidnapped, forced to axe his brother on the head, informed of his wifeís infidelity and told that if he does not carry on as if everything is normal then his fratricidal activities will become public knowledge. And thatís just the start of a living nightmare that drives Lance to the brink of insanity, losing the odd finger and more along the way. Itís all the work of a mysterious Stranger (Timothy Muskatell) who has an equally mysterious beef with Lance. We have no idea what has caused said beef but the person most in the dark is Lance himself. The central gag with Chop is the more frustrated Stranger gets with Lances failure to remember what went down, the more severe and sadistic the punishments get. And the more we laugh!
Comedy is one of the hardest genres to pull off, horror-comedy is even harder and here we have what is quite possibly a first: torture-comedy! And amazingly it works. The revenge story is often based around the futility of vengeance, but Haag has chosen to focus on the absurdity of it. Marrying it to the hypocritical moralizing and bloodletting of the torture flick has resulted in dirty comic gold. A lot of Chop is set in sunny daylight but Haaga and cinematographer Christian Janss make LA look like the sun blushed hell hole it really is, creating a unique atmosphere for their story of physical and mental suffering. Unlike the sombre Deadgirl, nothing in Chop is to be taken seriously but itís hardly splatstick in the vein of Hatchet or Slither. The gore is plentiful but restrained and never overpowers the comedy. Itís admirable that Haaga chose to make his debut with a script he didnít write (more writers turned directors should do this. itís a collaborative process people!) and Adam Minarovichís superbly barbed and nastily hilarious yarn fits Haaga like a glove.
The pacing is breakneck in the extreme and may prove a bone of contention for some. That incredibly packed pre-title sequence is just the tip of the iceberg and Chop doesnít let up from there. By the end of the first act itís like youíve watched a whole movie already because SO MUCH has happened and one early scene would be a high climax in many a lesser movie. But Haaga has another good hour to go and many more extremes to get to. This crammed approach will delight many but probably induce fatigue in just as many others as things escalate to a suitably loony finale. The very ending will definitely infuriate, but thatís exactly the point.
A cat and mouse tale is only as good as its Tom & Jerry and Keenan and Muskatell make an unforgettable double act. Chop is essentially a two hander (the odd amputee leather-daddy and avenging lesbian hooker notwithstanding) and the way Keenanís increasingly wired pillock plays off Muskatellís calm, collected but obviously unhinged psycho makes for great comedy. Lance is a twitchy paranoid little worm who we suspect deserves everything thatís coming to him and yet weíre allowed to feel sympathy for him even while laughing at his misfortunes. A lot of this is down to Keenanís charisma and comic timing which is nigh on perfect; think the best of Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and youíre on the right track. Muskatell is just as good giving us a very unique sociopath who is sort of pitiable but convincingly unstoppable. You do not want to cross him.
Those who like a little sick in their laughs will adore Chop. Itís amazing itís taken nearly 7 years since the first Saw for someone to successfully lampoon the torture porn boom. Blending that franchise birthing hit with Park Chan Wookís Oldboy and adding a little crazy moonshine all their own Haaga, Minarovich and the two extremely talented leads have delivered an indie horror comedy classic. Itís unlikely this gem will get a big release so seek it out and spread the word... chop chop!
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the filmís central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.