Recently celebrating its world premiere at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, Viet Nguyen’s Crush the Skull could easily be summed up as part heist movie, part slasher but it’s 100 percent unexpected fun. Nguyen confidently blends the two genres together for an experience that’s tense, well-paced and often hilarious, demonstrating there are still a few twists to be had in the modern horror genre.
Crush the Skull follows Ollie (Christopher Dinh) and Blair (Katie Savoy), a loving couple who commit small burglary jobs in order to pay the bills and they run into some trouble on what’s supposed to be their final job. When Blair has to resort to extreme measures in order to help Ollie out of a tough situation, she turns to her brother Connor (Chris Riedell), who has planned the perfect heist on a country home in the middle of nowhere with his wingman Riley (Tim Chiou). Connor and Riley let Ollie and Blair in on their plan, but once they arrive at the home they intend to burglarize, they realize they’ve stumbled into the lair of a sadistic serial killer who’s ready to add a few more victims (four, precisely) to his already impressive resume of death.
Crush the Skull is one of those films where going in, the less you know the better. The initial premise may sound familiar, but the story does take several decidedly left-turns. All of the surprises that Nguyen and his co-writer Dinh have in store for viewers are much more satisfying if you can experience them without any sort of expectations of what’s to come.
Both Dinh and Savoy turn in strong work in Crush the Skull, providing the story with a lot of heart and they exhibit great chemistry together, making it impossible to not want to root for them during their nightmarish ordeal. Riedell and Chiou are also fantastic in the film as the less-experienced blundering thieves who infuse the film with a ton of humor and come damned close to stealing show with a pair of wildly energetic and memorable performances.
The film is very well-paced, especially once the team of robbers arrive in the killer’s house, as it seems like no one ever stops moving (being stalked by a killer is apparently a huge motivator in not wasting much time for both Nguyen and his characters). The first-time feature filmmaker shows great promise with Crush the Skull as someone who keenly identifies what it is that genre fans enjoy so much about horror movies and he finds clever ways to manipulate those tropes into an experience that’s as funny and quirky as it is manic and tense.
Overall, Crush the Skull is an impressive debut from Nguyen and definitely a film I’d recommend keeping an eye out for as it makes the festival rounds in the coming months. It not only managed to keep me on my toes throughout, but it also left me wanting more when it was over. These days, that’s something that happens very rarely.
Movie Score: 4/5