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Dead Hooker in a Trunk

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
2010
Studio: 
Bounty Films
Genre: 
Splatter
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
2.35:1
Directed by: 
Jen & Sylvia Soska
Cast: 
Rikki Gagne
Jen Soska
Sylvia Soska
C.J. Wallis
John Tench
Movie: 
3
Extras: 
3
Bottom Line: 
3
Video: 
Click to Play

When a sassy, attention-grabbing grindhouse title like “Dead Hooker in A Trunk” appears emblazoned across a low-budget indie horror flick such as this, it can usually be read as an obvious marketing gimmick designed for the international festival circuit and a sure-fire signifier that the movie might just as well announce itself with the words: ‘amateur effort -- heavily beholden to that depressing, grainy, digital-video-grungy look, and reliant on buckets of cheap gore to plaster over all its other deficiencies’ in bold neon lettering on the DVD cover. This film is undeniably cheap looking, is full of sketchily written cartoonish characters, has an annoyingly flippant attitude to the use of extreme violence and an over-busy, uneven and meandering screenplay. Yet it’s managed to earn itself a gushing tag line from Eli Roth and the support and participation of Carlos Callardo, Robert Rodriguez’s friend and collaborator on the El Mariachi trilogy. The fact that it’s entirely written, produced and directed by two identical twin film school graduates, who are also the lead actresses, hasn’t done it any harm either. The Soska sisters, Jen and Sylvia, who work under the umbrella production moniker the Twisted Twins, made this film in Vancouver with a tiny crew but clearly plenty of enthusiasm and energy. Co-star C.J. Wallis also wrote some of the lo-fi rock incidental music accompaniment, as well as acted as a camera operator and post-production effects supervisor. Only the enthusiasm of first-time filmmakers holds this seat-of-the-pants debut flick together most of the time (Just!) but there are clear indications that a nascent talent lurks beneath the cynical ‘splatter’ mentality; there’s a confidence to the whole enterprise that is usually sorely lacking in such cheap and cheerful indie efforts and one can’t help thinking that we’ve only seen the merest fraction of what the team behind this film are actually capable of.

The film follows the unlikely and extremely violent adventures of a group of misfit twenty-something friends lead by the kickboxing, take-no-shit sex kitten known as ‘Badass’ (Sylivia Soska) and her nerdy, animi and video game-obsessed twin sister ‘Geek’ (Jen Soska). When Geek persuades Badass and her sassy rock chick best friend Junkie (Rikki Gagne) to give her a lift to church to pick up her wholesome, born-again Christian friend ‘Goody Two-Shoes’ (C.J. Wallis) from his morning prayer group, the apparently simple task takes an unanticipated turn when the foursome discover the dead body of a prostitute (Tasha Moth) in the trunk of the sisters’ car. Neither Badass nor Junkie can remember exactly what they got up to the previous night since they were both too stoned, so they quite understandably assume that they have in some way been responsible for this unfortunate development. An extremely reluctant Goody Two-Shoes and Geek are dragged along on what soon becomes a gory, unpredictable joyride through the suburbs of Vancouver pursued by a diabolical stallion-riding pimp cowboy (John Tench), drug traffickers wielding chainsaws and the baseball bat-wielding serial killer priest (Lloyd Bateman) who was actually responsible for the hooker’s death anyway.

“Dead Hooker in a Trunk” sets out its stall fairly early on: the violence is absurd, over-the-top and splatter-house gory. When one of the girls gets her arm ripped off, the group stitch it back on with fishing-line wire and she’s strumming away on her guitar again in next to no time; after Geek is violently attacked by the killer and loses an eyeball – having it propelled out of her skull after a vicious bang to the head -- she is able to recover fairly quickly from the ordeal and spends the rest of the film with some black duct tape criss-crossed over the empty socket (‘It’s actually pretty cool. You look like an animi character!’ Goody Two-Shoes assures her). A running gag concerning Goody Two-Shoes also centres on his frequent, messy projectile vomiting each time the gang encounter yet another gruesome situation. The humour is of the cartoonish, gross-out variety then: vomiting, dogs eating severed penises, more vomiting, bloody cartoon gore and even more vomiting constitutes the general routine. While they’re on the run and looking for a place to dump the body stashed in their car, the quartet manage to secure a room in a cheap Motel by bribing the manager (whom they find cradling a lipstick-smeared goat while watching porn in his office), and offering a night of passion with the hooker’s corpse. Although we attempt to identify with the young protagonists, they’re noticeably lacking in empathy or even likability: their attempts to get rid of the hooker’s body are motivated entirely by self-interest since two of the girls believe for most of the film that they were responsible for her death; and when they set out to bury her in a copse, it emerges that she’s actually been alive all along: she suddenly sits up … only to be unwittingly finished off for good when Badass swings her shovel around and accidentally brains her in the very process of digging her a grave. None of the group seem all that concerned by this development though, and when they finally figure out that a hooker-hating serial killer has been on the loose the whole time, they take revenge by kidnapping him (although it turns out to be his completely innocent twin brother), castrating him and then torturing him by banging out his teeth with a hammer & pick to the eerie accompaniment of “You Still Believe in Me” from The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album.

Indeed, this is one of the moments in the film when the Soska Twins’ attempt to make a modern, stylish romp populated with trendy kick-ass girl protagonists and extreme violence delivered with a nonchalant, genre-defining cynical indifference, seems somewhat compromised by an obvious desire to also add extra levels of artistic gloss to proceedings. On the directors’ commentary, Jen and Sylvia Soska veer from stressing all the Biblical allusions they’ve assiduously tried to incorporate into the screenplay the one moment, and the next gleefully pointing out all the references to necrophilia, ‘skull fucking and arse rape’ that have been liberally sprinkled throughout. There comes a point during a distastefully prolonged flashback to the killer’s assault on the hooker and in a scene where Badass is attacked in her house, suffocated with a plastic bag and repeatedly punched in the face -- when the violence stops being apologetically cartoonish and actually becomes deeply unpleasant. The tone from this point on slips back and forth between a seriously unpleasant gritty realism and the archness of the comic-book excess of the first part of the film, while leaving the impression that the whole project has gotten somewhat out of the twin co-directors’ control. Long, languorous scenes of dialogue or artful contemplation, tastefully shot at a purple-hued dawn as the sun comes up, start to percolate among the endless rock-soundtracked sequences of gore-drenched violence being elsewhere visited upon various persons. A frequent fault of debut features, in which the filmmakers try to throw in everything just in case they never get to make another film, eventually becomes an obvious drawback here, leading to a confused and directionless melange of elements that don’t ever really cohere. The performances are made up of a bunch of routine and uneven amateur efforts and the writing is superficial as befits the mostly shallow material and the stereotypical characters. Nevertheless, there is an edginess and determination evident throughout this flawed exercise; the editing and shaky-cam digital video work are of a much higher quality than we’re accustomed to seeing and there is real drive propelling the film forward at certain points -- it unfortunately just isn’t sustained for the whole running time.   

Bounty Films bring “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” to the UK on a disc that’s loaded with extra features. There are two commentary tracks: one features the twins in a directors’ commentary, the other features them and their co-star and camera operator C.J. Wallis on a production commentary. The first is the more informal and anecdotal while the second aims for a more technical account of the actual process of indie film production. Unfortunately, some sort of technical hiccup means that the original audio soundtrack of the film plays at its original volume and actually drowns out most of the second commentary (the first also starts out with the soundtrack too loud, but it eventually settles down). Wallis is audible, but the two sisters seem to be mixed far too low, making it almost impossible at points to make out what they’re saying. Deleted scenes are included and an entertaining reel of bloopers and behind the scenes moments plays for about 15 minutes. A short discussion with the twins’ indie mentor Carlos Callardo (who plays a taxi-driving God during a cameo in the film) turns out to be just a short vignette, running at barely a minute, and a theatrical trailer, a preview trailer and a festival trailer round things off.

This is a promising debut, even though it doesn’t quite work. Nevertheless, the Soska sisters do deserve credit for their upbeat enthusiasm and independent spirit. I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of them.

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