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Viet Nguyen’s feature debut is based on an earlier short film, and you can see the stretch marks in this horror comedy about a band of robbers who unwittingly break into a house belonging to a resourceful serial killer. Uneasily blending familiar horror tropes with forced attempts at slapstick humor, Crush the Skull doesn’t fully succeed in either genre, although it does provide occasional laughs along the way.
A lengthy and unnecessary prologue introduces us to Ollie (Christopher Dinh, who co-wrote the screenplay) and Blair (Katie Savoy), a married couple who make their living as burglars. When a botched robbery results in Ollie being sent to jail, Blair is forced to go into debt to pay a local mobster to get him out. So the couple plans another big heist, this time in conjunction with Blair’s equally criminal-minded brother Connor (Chris Riedell) and his bumbling cohort Riley (Tim Chiou).
The quartet think they’ve found suitable prey in the form of an expensive country home that seems to be deserted. But surprising complications arise after they break in — the house turns out to be a torture den, with sealed windows and doors, locked rooms, no cellphone service and a desperate female victim (Lauren Reeder) being kept captive in the basement. Even worse, the home’s deranged, homicidal owner (Walter Michael Bost) is on the premises.
You can pretty much predict the rest, as the resulting cat-and-mouse game between the killer and his would-be robbers/potential victims turns gruesomely violent. There’s a surprise twist involving one of the characters not being who they initially seem, and when a sheriff shows up to investigate it isn’t hard to guess how he’ll wind up.
But despite its formulaic and derivative aspects — not to mention the overzealous camerawork that is far more busy than effective — the film is fun at times, thanks to the frequently witty dialogue delivered by the performers in deadpan fashion. When one of the robbers becomes frustrated while trying to get help from a 911 operator, she shouts, “I’m a white person!” When the robbers first come upon the female victim, one of them thoughtfully asks, “Do you need food?” After she desperately responds in the affirmative, he replies, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any.”
It’s moments like those that make Crush the Skull — the ending of which amusingly sends up the tired device of the seemingly dead villain suddenly coming back to life — mildly diverting. It’s too bad that there just aren’t enough of them.
Distributor: Breaking Glass Films
Production: Cherry Sky Films, Ninja Crush
Cast: Christopher Dinh, Katie Savoy, Chris Riedell, Tim Chiou, Lauren Reeder, Walter Michael Bost
Director-editor: Viet Nguyen
Screenwriters: Viet Nguyen, Christopher Dinh
Producers: Christopher Dinh, Viet Nguyen, Aya Tanimura, Jimmy Tsai
Executive producers: Joan Huang, Jeffrey Gou
Directors of photography: Tuan Quoc Le, John Reyes-Nguyen
Production designer: Eloise Ayala
Costume designer: Mayumi Masaoka
Composer: David Frank Long
Not rated, 80 minutes
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