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February 12, 2012


(2011, Dir. by Trent Haaga.)

Dismemberment takes center stage in Chop, a horror comedy that riffs on Saw and films of its sort with a lot of success.  A cat-and-mouse game between a man who's out for revenge and a man who did him wrong is nothing new to horror fans, but the methods Chop uses to tell that story are more successful than I expected.

Will Keenan (credited here as Billy Bakshi) stars as Lance, an ex-drug addict who's married and seemingly happy, whose privacy is invaded after a mysterious stranger picks him up on the side of the road after his car breaks down.  The nameless man (played by Timothy Muskatell) quickly reveals to Lance that Lance's wife is having an explicit affair with his brother, and forces Lance to choose who he would rather kill.  The unhinged husband eventually chooses to spare his wife's life, putting an ax into his brother's skull.  The stranger tells him that he must go forward as nothing ever happened, particularly with his unfaithful wife, or he will provide the police with evidence that would condemn Lance for the murder.

The plot sounds ridiculous there, and it only becomes more ridiculous as the film moves on.  Lance doesn't hold up his end of the bargain very well, which means the stranger begins to take things from Lance.  This allows for two things: 1) Keenan freaking out in an over-the-top performance that would make Nicolas Cage proud, and 2) Lots of brutal violence that keeps the film firmly in horror movie territory and doesn't let the film devolve into something like one of those Epic/Disaster/Superhero/Scary Movie films.

Muskatell is wonderfully dry opposite Keenan's manic performance, which makes this the odd outlier in which the victim is less human than their antagonist.  The characters who come in and out of the film alongside them add varying amounts of comedy to the film, but these two men are front and center in almost every scene.  I called it a cat-and-mouse game earlier, but that's probably an unfair statement when I consider just how dopey Lance is compared to the stranger's calmly vicious mindset.

Chop is the directorial debut of veteran no-budget horror star Trent Haaga, who keeps the film looking polished while the actors have fun with Adam Minarovich's quirky script.  The turns the film takes through its second half keep things interesting, though I did find the change in setting that occurs about halfway through the film changed the tone a little too much.  The switch was necessary - the plot had kind of outgrown itself when the change occurs, but I think I wanted a little more of the stalker's game that the beginning of the film had to offer.

Quibbles aside, I really found myself having fun with Chop.  The actors sell the comedy well - Keenan's grandiose performance is the kind of humor I absolutely love - and the violence keeps us groaning and laughing the same way it did in films like Hobo With a Shotgun.  It's a fantastic little spoof of torture porn tricks and gimmicks (leading up to a final minute reveal that I'm still not sure I liked), but I think it stands alone as a horror comedy hit too.  This is a pleasant surprise that I'm betting I'll revisit sooner than later for a few gruesome laughs.

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