Four burglars get the surprise of a lifetime when a poorly orchestrated robbery lands them inside a serial killer’s hermetically sealed murder den.
The inventive horror/comedy “Crush the Skull” comes from “iZombie” contributor Viet Nguyen based on his own 2010 short, and finds thieving couple Ollie and Blair (Nguyen’s co-writer Chris Dinh and Katie Savoy) in the midst of their “one last job” before retirement. Unfortunately, the robbery goes south when the job is interrupted by an adulterous couple and a subsequent double homicide, orchestrated by the jealous husband who somewhat resembles Matt Frewer’s mid-transformation character from the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. When the cops show up, the two then find themselves deeply indebted to a guy who “calculates his late fees in body parts” after Ollie is bailed out of jail.
The only way for them to get out of the red is to team up with Blair’s brother Connor (Chris Riedell), who has a beef with Ollie over some past occurrence, and Connor’s half-witted one-man “crew” Riley (Tim Chiou), who needs money for his girlfriend’s boob job. The plan is cut-and-dry: rob a remote house they’ve been casing for a couple of weeks, while Ollie gets relegated to watchdog duty in exchange for being allowed to tag along. What awaits them might prove to be bad karma rearing its ugly head for Ollie and Blair, as the group realizes that they are trapped inside a sterile, unfurnished residence that reflects poorly on Connor’s recon skills, since the only thing of value seems to be the impenetrable bullet-proof glass that stands between them and their freedom.
If one could find humor in such a scenario, which recalls films like”Silence of the Lambs”, “Saw”, “Kiss the Girls” and vaguely “13 Ghosts”, without compromising its inherent freakiness, then director Nguyen has flat-out nailed that delicate balance that even many big-time horror filmmakers can’t seem to find. Things get worse when the group discovers a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms outfitted for torturous experiments. One such chamber contains a victim (Lauren Reeder) of the yet unseen psychopath (Walt Bost), a woman who has developed — well, let’s just say a few trust issues during her time imprisoned there.
With a twist or two and one morbid revelation, “Crush the Skull” doesn’t go a minute that doesn’t ooze creativity, whether it be the sharp, hilarious dialogue, stellar camerawork from Tuan Quoc Le and John Nguyen, creepy set design, or the terrific cast, who, amidst the mishmash of horror and humor, manage to convince us that their characters are worth caring about. Dare I say that the film is more believable than your typical slasher flick? Maybe not the scene in which the model-esque Savoy tries to pass herself off as a house painter in its opening robbery attempt (suggesting the film might push for full-on parody, which it doesn’t). But “Crush the Skull” is surprisingly logical for the genre blend, as Nguyen keeps the suspense escalating while the group’s circumstances grow increasingly dire.