Chop (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-01-13 07:28

Written by: Adam Minarovich
Directed by: Trent Haaga
Starring: Timothy Muskatell and Will Keenan

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

Revenge is best taken piece by piece.

Chop gets off to a pretty rough start, with a guy (Will Keenan) being forced to hitch a ride after his car breaks down. Because horror movies are invariably populated by people who havenít seen other horror movies or who read the news about random slaying of drifters, another guy (Timothy Muskatell) picks him up. You know how this is going to play out--the only question is which one of these two is really a psychopathic killer? However, just as you get a chance to smugly resign Chop to being another predictable stab-fest, it gives you the answer to this question early, then becomes a wild, bloody comedy of errors and revenge.

It turns out that the driver is the maniac; he playfully asks his hitchhiker, Lance, who he would save from certain death if given the choice: his half brother or his wife? Lance plays along, reluctantly choosing his wife, thinking thatís just a harmless game; this is far from the case though, as the stranger abducts him and then literally forces him to make that choice--he must put an axe through his brotherís head, or this guy will kill his wife (who he has held hostage on the other end of a phone line).

Even though all of this merely kicks off the filmís wild ride, Iíll still let you experience that choice for yourself and its immediate fallout. Itís pretty disturbing stuff at a basic level and certainly feels Saw-inspired; in fact, youíve probably already envisioned this being another grimy, nihilistic excursion into dank, dirty, industrial warehouses full of torture and whatnot. But Chop isnít that; instead, it consistently surprises you, sometimes in delightful ways, sometimes in annoying ways, but, hey, it is at least surprising. I like how it does take that very clichťd kernel and does some fun things with it, fun being the operative word here. Yes, this is essentially watching one guy trying to take revenge on another for 80 minutes, but itís a particularly bonkers take on the material, as it brims with goofball humor.

I wouldnít exactly call it smart, sly black humor--director Trent Haaga is a Troma alum (and heís brought a few familiar faces along with him), so it hews towards that outrageous, splat-stick aesthetic that never once resembles actual reality. At the center of it is Keenan, a guy who treats being terrorized by a maniac as some kind of annoyance; heís overly twitchy and would basically be the first guy youíd suspect when murder is involved. Heís this huge doofus that gets matched up against the more enigmatic stranger whose aim is simple: he simply wants Lance to remember who he is and why heís now decided to take vengeance one limb at a time. I thought for sure that even this was going to be drawn out and rote, especially when we were treated to weird, hallucinogenic flashbacks to Lanceís childhood (where his mom is played by Camille Keaton!). These are just supposed to be red herrings, though, I guess, as weíre constantly left wondering just what the connection is between these two; the big joke here is that Lance keeps guessing wrong, which leads to the stranger calling up these other people (like a guy he once ran over in a hit and run and the friend of an ill-fated prostitute) to come in and also take their revenge.

This leads to some weird interactions with absurdly bearded guys who look to have raided ZZ Topís wardrobe; theyíre prone to quoting Different Strokes before chopping off a guyís leg, and itís all gleefully dumb. In his directorial debut, Haaga is smart enough to keep things moving quickly, as the type of humor here can wear out its welcome rather quickly, plus he keeps just enough of a mean streak around to keep the moralistic angle afoot. Chop does end up resembling Saw a bit, at least in the sense that the killer is out to punish Lance for all of the bad things heís done throughout his life. The only problem is that Lance isnít exactly sympathetic character; Iím not sure if you want your hero screaming things like ďI hope I killed someone you love,Ē and the overall silliness undercuts any sort of gravitas this thing could have anyway.

Maybe thatís why the film ends on what I assume to be a joke, as Lanceís transgression is finally revealed, and itís nothing short of anticlimactic. Maybe itís supposed to be a spoof, but Chop ends up replicating the experience of dealing with an annoying kid who wants to whisper secrets in your ear but just keeps giggling instead. Only itís not quite cute enough to pull that off; it isnít a bad movie--Haaga knows how to get some interesting shots and manages to keep things energetic even when nearly half the movie is situated in one set-piece. Itís also gruesome and short, two things that are mightily appealing whenever youíre dealing with something thatís basically an extended joke with a bad punch line. Chop is another one of Bloody Disgustingís selects movies, and itís probably the best Iíve seen besides Atrocious; I imagine this was a lot more fun with a crowd (assuming it played to a limited theatrical run like BDís other movies have). The DVD is a decent release with a crisp anamorphic transfer that delivers the movieís vibrant palette fairly well; the soundtrack is only stereo, but I donít think this would really benefit much from a 5.1 track. Among the sparse special features are some outttakes, a deleted scene, and an extended scene, but you do get to see more of Keatonís performance, which was (ahem) chopped down in the main feature. Maybe that was for the best, though--something like Chop works best when it's as sharp and direct as an axe. It'll probably leave you groaning a bit when it's through, though. Rent it!

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