★★ / ★★★★
Lance (Will Keenan) is driving on the highway when his car suddenly gives out. Desperate for a ride, he gets into a truck of a stranger (Timothy Muskatell) who is willing to take him to the nearest town. While on the way there, the driver asks Lance if he can ask him two questions. Naturally, he complies given that the man is kind enough to give him a ride. First, if he can save only his wife (Camille Keaton) or half-brother (Chad Ferrin) from certain death, who will it be? Second, has he ever been shot with a tranquilizer gun?
“Chop,” written by Adam Minarovich, is a hit-or-miss horror-comedy. The picture is an unconventional revenge movie with occasional uncomfortable chuckles. The stranger claims Lance has done him wrong in the past, but our protagonist cannot remember the specific bad thing he did. It does not help that he is a former drug addict, only driven by what felt good at the time. Each time Lance fails to follow the stranger’s specific instructions, he loses a limb. The process is repetitive and what once seems promising turns dull real quick.
Keenan has plenty of crazy expressions which work during scenes where he must interact with the cops (Tamil T. Rhee, Adam Minarovich) assigned to investigate the disappearance of Lance’s half-brother. Lance’s strange behavior—inability to focus on the detectives’ questions, eyes bulging out of their sockets—and appearance—missing a finger one day, four fingers the next–lead the men of the law to suspect that Lance is the culprit.
The latter half of the film involves Lance being strapped onto a chair and harangued by the stranger to think real hard about the wrongs he did. This is the point where the screenplay begins to feel painfully stagnant. Even though colorful characters are introduced, like drug dealers (Mark Irvingsen, Jeff Sisson) and prostitutes (Elina Madison, Malaya Manson), each introduction comes off like a desperate set up to bring on the blood. There is no substance. And though the material retains its sense of humor because the blood’s consistency looks like it comes right off a garden hose, the flashback scenes—when Lance attempts with all his might to recall the terrible things he did—are neither as funny nor as involving as they should have been.
At some point I wondered when the film is going to surprise the audience and take a genuinely serious turn. There is no doubt that Lance is not a good person when he used to be under the influence. When he is tied up to the chair, no longer a drug addict, he feels a certain level of responsibility for his past actions. However, his confessions and words of regret do not ring true because the comedy never takes a backseat even for a few minutes. As a result, the apologies feel jokey and sarcastic.
Directed by Trent Haaga, “Chop” might have been stronger if it had been more emotionally complex by excising scenes that come off as too desperate to generate laughs and inserting scenes aimed to explore the roots of Lance’s remorse. Horror-comedy hybrids, or any movie for that matter, work best when there is real drama and tension behind them. This one does not feel like there is something else behind its façade.