Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Trent Haaga's CHOP: Atonement and Stump Sex
Directed by Trent Haaga
Written by Adam Minarovich
Bloody Disgusting Selects
Trent Haaga Online
Note: I could have SWORN Mike reviewed this film at some point, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Anyway, lemme know, Mike, and I'll link it!
Troma's all purpose man and indie stalwart Trent Haaga is responsible for penning 2008's grim and polarizing film Deadgirl. Both Mike and I are staunchly divided on that film. Our debates and spats over its merits often culminate in feats of strength, demolished furniture, and crying. We're about as far apart on the spectrum as two pals can possibly be. Luckily for our friendship, Haaga returns with his directing debut Chop, a darkly funny and grisly film sure to mend our wounded hearts.
To say I'm a fan of horror comedy is a long shot. At best, I'm skeptical. Most of the time they overshoot, relying too much on half-baked jokes, and shoddy execution that lives or dies by flimsy wisecracks or sight gags. All too often, the forced comedy waters down what might have been a decent film. With a few expections, I'm almost always turned off by them. Self-awareness done poorly can break a film, and comedy in horror tends to poke more fun at itself than any number of better suited targets. However, when comedy in horror is done right, it's ooooh-so-good. Take Return of the Living Dead for example: That film is funny as shit, but it earns its laughs in a way that refrains from mockery, and is respectful to its audience. It incites laughter in the over-the-top reactions of its characters to some pretty grim material. I don't think a funnier movie exists that makes its viewer so thoroughly confront mortality. If you weren't laughing, you'd surely be crying.
The same might be said of Chop, a film that is very funny, but still respectful of the horror genre. Haaga's film, too, forces the viewer to confront a number of horrible circumstances. The audience must endure torture, dismemberment, gunshot blasts to the head, all delivered with a tongue planted firmly in cheek. The story follows Lance Reed, a painfully average but seemingly ok guy. He's got a pretty wife, a decent home, a semblance of a life. Although things seem good for him, it's clear that he doesn't quite appreciate it. When his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, he's kidnapped by what is thought to be a good samaritan, but turns out to be a stranger with sights set on revenge.
It seems the Stranger knows Lance, and he's guilty of a past grievance for which Lance is expected to pay. In a series of elaborate (and hilarious) schemes, the Stranger (Timothy Muskatell) exacts his revenge methodically, each encounter taking something from Lance. The stranger raises the bar each time he visits Lance, and won't stop in his quest for retribution until Lance confesses his sin. Lance soon finds himself losing body parts. The whole thing escalates to gruesome (and again, hilarious) proportions as Lance loses more and more parts in atonement for a past indescretion he can't even remember. Add a few people from Lance's past into the mix, and Chop twists and turns more than anyone would expect from a misleadingly simple satire on torture porn. To give away more would ruin all the icky surprises Haaga and screenwriter Adam Minarovich have in store.
Haaga's film doesn't knock your socks off with aesthetics, but it is a solid, well-paced film, expertly crafted by somone who cut his teeth on many independent film shoots. Chop is damn funny, and quite freshingly unpredictable. The performances are clever, each character delivering with a straight face that never teeters too far over the edge into outright comedy. In fact, you may, like me, feel a bit of pathos for the characters. Will Keenan in particular is stellar as Lance, his expressions and reactions so tragically comic and robust you'll swear the screenplay started out as a silent film at some point. Muskatell is up to the task as the revenge-bent Stranger, a man whose increasing frustration with Lance leads to some seriously savage acts.
Chop can be summed up in this way: Think back to a shared funny moment with a friend while both of you were drinking something. There's that briefest of moments where you're both holding a serious face just before losing it and spitting a mouthful of liquid all over the place. That's exactly the mindset of Chop. It resides right there in that brief window just before everything is doused in spit and legal beverage. Only here, it might also contain a stray finger or some brain matter.