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An eye for an eye, treat others as you wish to be treated,
“Karma is a motherf**ker…” All lessons that Lance Reed learns the hard way from
a homicidal stranger with an ax (among other things) to grind in CHOP, now on
DVD from Vivendi Entertainment.
CHOP starts out in familiar territory: Lance (TROMEO &
JULIET’s Will Keenan, credited here as Billy Bakshi) finds himself stranded
when his car breaks down in a semi-remote location with no cell service and no
one around for miles. That is, until he is able to flag down a passing truck
whose driver is kind enough to offer him a ride back to the city. After some
small talk and a few awkward moments with a man billed only as “The Stranger”
(Timothy Muskatell), Lance meets the business end of a tranquilizer gun, and
from there, the film wastes no time in getting straight to the point.
Next thing we know, we’re in a warehouse with a shaking
Lance, who is being forced by the Stranger—out for revenge on him for a prior
injustice Lance fails to remember—to either drive an ax into his own
half-brother’s face or listen to his wife die a grisly death over the
Stranger’s phone. Lance makes the choice, swing goes the ax, and so begins
CHOP. It’s a hell of an opener.
From here, the Stranger makes Lance a simple deal: He’s to
go home, kiss his wife, tell her he loves her and speak not a word about the
affair she’d been having with Lance’s (now deceased) brother—and if Lance
breaks the deal, he’s in for a world of trouble. Of course, Lance lasts all of
three weeks before the knowledge of his wife’s affair begins to fester, and he
starts dropping snide, suspicious comments. Naturally, the Stranger calls their
little deal off, and so the trouble begins…again. What follows is a
cat-and-mouse game between Lance and the Stranger as Lance struggles to figure
out who this guy is, what he did to make him so angry and why he keeps waking
up with fewer and fewer extremities.
Horror/comedy is generally a tough nut to crack (or hack up
with an ax, as the case may be). It requires a delicate balance that many films
attempt, but many have trouble actually nailing. Aside from having a good
script, a successful movie of this type needs to be taken seriously by the
people involved so as not to come off jokey or insincere. It never works when
you have a bunch of actors looking at the camera going, “Can you believe this?!
Isn’t this all just absurd?!” We know it’s absurd, and part of the fun is
watching characters deal with it as part of their reality. Committing to it,
and allowing the characters to believe it, is key to any good horror/comedy
(and good comedy in general), and this is something CHOP does rather well.
Which isn’t to say the film isn’t over-the-top; it has a heightened tone and a
certain degree of self-awareness, but given the circumstances, you believe it.
The movie sets up the rules of its universe and sticks to them, and that’s
CHOP possesses its own blend of dark, quirky humor and
revenge-thriller tropes à la films like OLDBOY and FARGO, mixed with just a
hint of SAW-esque torture morality. The characters are painted with varying
degrees of twisted, colorful sliminess, and the cast definitely seem to be
enjoying themselves. Pretty much everyone involved is screwed up in some way, especially
Lance, who seems like a good enough guy at the start, but is revealed to have a
nasty little history of his own. It’s a lot of fun to watch him and the
Stranger play off each other, forming a twisted little bond as Lance spouts off
about past injustices, trying to put a finger (or rather, one of his remaining
thumbs) on where exactly he knows this Stranger from. After seeing the two
pitted against two deadpan cops (one of whom you may recognize as Adam
Minarovich, who played Carol’s abusive husband Ed on THE WALKING DEAD and also
wrote this film), a jilted lesbian prostitute, a drug-dealing redneck amputee
and a huge, ZZ-Top-bearded, biker-jacket-wearing bear with a penchant for
cherry Chap Stick, Conrad Bain, and something called “stumpin’,” you truly get
the sense that Lance and the Stranger have been through a lot together. It’s
kind of touching, in a sick way.
Beyond the colorful cast of characters, CHOP benefits
greatly from Minarovich’s tight, clever script and some sharp direction from
feature first-timer Trent Haaga (you can sense Haaga’s roots as an actor in the
Troma camp without this feeling like a Troma film). It’s a movie that plays its
hand without any reservations, copouts, or punches pulled, knowing just when to
show us the money shots and when to leave you with the impact rather than the
gore itself. It also manages to keep you laughing without dulling the suspense
by allowing you get too comfortable. Haaga often manages to transcend his
budget restrictions, skillfully navigating through moments of humor, suspense,
gore, seat-squirming creepiness and even drama, and keeps it all fast-paced
without feeling like it’s rushing through the brief 84-minute running time.
CHOP also benefits from Matthew Olivo’s score, which ranges from acoustic instrumentation
to slick electronica to suspenseful synth tones to a couple of bad-ass
climactic guitar pieces.
Also, just as a sidebar, it’s interesting that Lance’s wife
Emily is played by an Indian actress (Tanisha Mukherjee), a fact that the film
calls no direct attention to. Lance and Emily are an interracial couple, and
it’s nice to see filmmakers willing to make a choice like that without feeling
the need to turn it into a specific plot point or a one-off piece of dialogue.
So, bonus points for being progressive.
Nonetheless, CHOP is not a perfect film. While most of the
dialogue is fun and clever, every now and again there are clunky lines that
just serve to get basic points across. The cinematography, as presented in the
DVD’s 1.78:1 transfer ranges from smooth and polished to overexposed and blown
out, especially in some of the daytime exteriors. The editing is occasionally
choppy (no pun intended, I swear), as are some of the levels on the Dolby
Digital sound mix, and a couple of minor FX shots come off looking subpar in
comparison to the more elaborate gags, which look great. There are also a
couple of superimposed sequences that could come across as confusing if you’re
not paying close enough attention. None of these detract significantly from the
film as a whole, but they’re worth noting.
As far as special features go, CHOP is pretty sparse; all we
get are an amusing gag reel and two deleted/extended scenes. It’s pretty
apparent why these were altered, as they’re not entirely necessary; however, the
second one does serve to clarify a potentially confusing superimposed bit
involving Lance’s mother. It makes sense why they altered it for the final cut,
as the scene is a little too much in its raw form, but it’s still here for your
All in all, CHOP is a blast of a pitch-black, low-budget
horror/comedy, and definitely one to be enjoyed with plenty of good company
(though it had me laughing out loud from start to finish just watching it by
myself). It should also hold up over repeat viewings for the sheer amount of
fun little details and double meanings you can catch, once you’ve seen the
whole story play out in full.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
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