Description (from the DVD insert):
Lance Reed is just a normal guy living a normal life… until The Stranger arrives. Now fearing for his life and the life of those close to him, Lance must remember what he did to deserve this punishment. The directorial debut of DEADGIRL screenwriter Trent Haaga, CHOP is a darkly humorous thriller about bloody revenge gone horribly wrong…
Timothy Muskatell as The Stranger, Billy Bakshi (aka Will Keenan) as Lance Reed, Tanisha Mukherji as Emily Reed, Mark Irvingsen as Ray, Jeff Sisson as Jeff, Malaya Manson as Stephanie, Adam Minarovich as Detective Williams, Tamil T. Rhee as Detective Roebuck
Forgive me if I’m gushing a little on this review. I freakin’ loved CHOP. I realize it’s only April, but by far this is the best movie I’ve seen this year, and the best indy film I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing… so, sorry if I sound a little “fanboy” on this one.
CHOP is the directorial debut of Trent Haaga. If you like low-budget films, I probably don’t need to explain who he is; look up Trent on the IMDB and you’ll see 40 listings for him as an actor (including my movie, DEFECTIVE MAN!, that he was kind enough to be a part of, and Scott Phillips’ GIMME SKELTER, where I met Trent) in everything from Troma flicks to HBO’s LIVING AND DYING, to Chris Seaver’s MULVA: ZOMBIE ASS KICKER! On top of his plethora of acting gigs, Trent is a producer, a writer (if you haven’t seen it, you need to see DEADGIRL – one of the most twisted “zombie” flicks ever made), and has his hands in just about everything that goes on a film set. When I met him on the set of GIMME SKELTER, he showed up from the airport and jumped in to effects, fashioning a slit throat on Kristin Hansen, as he had nothing else to do that day. We talked, and I asked, with all of the other things he had done, when was he going to direct something? If I remember right, I think he told me he “was a writer, not a director.” What a liar! If CHOP is any indication, Trent is a director among the cream of the crop of the indy world, and I hope that bigger budgets will take notice of this awesome little flick!
CHOP is a really dark and twisted tale of revenge. Lance Reed, a seemingly innocent everyman, is picked up by a seemingly random Stranger on the highway when his car breaks down, and conversation in the vehicle quickly escalates to kidnapping and the eventual forced murder by Lance of his half-brother (before you get mad at me for the spoiler with no “alert,” know that this is just the first few minutes of the film; I’m not going to spoil any of the awesome twists and turns this story takes from here). The Stranger wants Lance to remember him, and the horrible deed that Lance committed, and now the Stranger has Lance committing his own horrible deed and has the blackmail setup he needs to truly begin his revenge. Yes, murdering his half-brother is nowhere near the end of the revenge this man has planned, it’s barely the beginning.
I’m not going to go any further into the plot of CHOP, because it needs to be experienced. I do not want to ruin any of the surprises the film holds, and to say any more about it would definitely ruin one or another… there’s just too many twists and turns to be able to avoid giving one away! Screenwriter Adam Minarovich has crafted one of the most twisted revenge stories I’ve ever seen; and though he’s not listed as a writer, the script seems to have a bit of Trent Haaga feel to it – I would be very surprised if Trent didn’t have a least a little influence on the written word here.
So, let’s get technical for a little bit. CHOP is the most technically sound film I have had the chance to review. The video quality is top-notch, “real” Hollywood equivalent, as would be expected since the film was shot on a RED camera. While the RED is still above many low-budget films’ reach, it is not anything near an Arriflex in its prohibition, and they continue to get cheaper and cheaper meaning that hopefully more lower budgets will put some money into grabbing this technology (or at least hiring a cinematographer that owns one). The sound quality is also well above the standard lower-budget fare; the dialogue and music are balanced, and I never once had to adjust the volume on my set to hear any of the extremely awesome lines! The production design is immaculate, as well as are the costumes and every other “smaller” detail of the film.
What really stood out for me was the direction. For a “writer, not a director” Haaga sure knows how to balance the visual requirements of the screen with the actor’s needs. The composition, camera work, movement, etc., all were great – CHOP balances safely between being too static and too dynamic; there is neither the “put the camera on a tripod and let the actors carry it” feel of Kevin Smith, nor is there the “let’s do a million camera movies” of Darren Aronofsky. On the other side of the director’s chair, Trent was able to glean some of the best performances I’ve seen from the cast I’m familiar with. Billy Bakshi shines as Lance, he is spot-on as the normal, everyman, and the darker man hiding beneath that exterior; Jeff Sisson’s turn as Jeff is equally striking; Timothy Muskatell is amazing as The Stranger. Muskatell presents a character that is calmly psychotic, collectedly off his rocker; the performance becomes even more impressive when his reasoning for revenge is finally shown, and the extent of his madness is truly revealed.
Usually, I spend a little time talking about what I didn’t like in a film. I can’t think of anything. Truly, this is one of the best revenge movies, one of the best dark comedies, one of the best indy films, one of the best flicks I have ever seen. I just really can’t say enough about how much I liked this film. Let’s put it this way: if it wasn’t already 11:30 pm when I finished watching it last night (which is really late when you have a 2 ½ year old kid and a full-time regular job), I would have watched it a second time right away. It was that good.
Overall: awesome. Just awesome. And when I say “awesome” I don’t mean “awesome” in it’s every day, nonchalant sort of way most people associate with that word, I mean: I am literally in awe of how good this flick is. CHOP balances comedy and horror flawlessly, the plot has more twists and turns than a high-speed chase on a San Francisco street, the technical aspects are all amazing, and overall CHOP is as close to a “perfect” indy film as I have ever seen. If CHOP is not destined to be referred to as a “cult classic” then I have no idea what that term means.
Overall 10 / 10
CHOP on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1544578/
CHOP is not for sale yet.