Dir: Viet Nguyen | Closing Night | USA | 2015 | 80 minutes
Nov 8 7:00 pm | International Village
Winner of the inaugural “Nighfall Award” at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, Viet Nguyen’s feature directorial debut Crush the Skull, is a hilarious and thrilling hybrid of a heist film and a gory, old-school slasher film. The screenplay, which is written by Nguyen and Christopher Dinh, one of the film’s leads, skillfully balances comedic moments with frightening, unexpected twists. The cinematography also brings the funny, and the scary, scenes to life, and the excellent cast bolsters the film.
Crush the Skull follows Ollie (Dinh) and Blair (Katie Savoy), a couple working as professional thieves specializing in the raiding of upper-class homes. During what was supposed to be their “last job” before retirement, Ollie and Blair find themselves in the middle of a deadly domestic dispute, which unexpectedly lands Ollie in jail. As a result, Blair is forced to reach out to a shady criminal under-lord named Timmy Song to bail Ollie out, and this is burdened with debilitating debt. In order to pay it off, the couple teams up with Blair’s brother Connor (Chris Riedell) and his “crew” Riley (Tim Chiou) to raid a country home in the middle of nowhere.
It becomes clear soon after arriving at the house that something isn’t quite right. They break in and quickly realize that they have become trapped in the secret labyrinth-like layer of a deranged serial killer, who uses the house to torture and butcher his victims. Armed only with their wits, burglary skills and a tiny knife, the robbers have to find a way to escape a devious and diabolical villain.
The film’s use of throwback genre tropes, including scenes of gore taken to the extreme and straight-up comedy is very well executed. Chiou’s character (Riley) in particular, provides much of the comedic relief throughout. One-liners such as, “Stupid phone. I should have upgraded this piece of shit, but, no, I had to save money for boobs,” made me laugh out loud. Riley is highly entertaining, and the fumbling, buddy-cop dynamic between Riley and Connor is especially fantastic. The ridiculous antics of Connor and Riley are nicely balanced with Dinh and Savoy’s “straight man” performances. Dinh, in particular, is excellent: his dead-pan delivery and Ollie’s inability to deliver jokes provides great juxtaposition to the comedy elsewhere in the film.
Crush the Skull, which has it’s origins in two short films initially uploaded to YouTube on Halloween of 2011 and 2013, is a terrific expansion on the dark comedies initially produced by Nguyen and Dinh in those earlier works.
Slapstick hijinks and torturous bloodshed are deftly combined in Crush the Skull, a film that is sure to delight.