Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-09-10 19:38
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Written and Directed by: Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
Starring: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, and CJ Wallis

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman





"There is a DEAD body in the trunk!"


Coincidentally, my previous review ended with the insistence that horror is better when women arenít treated as disposable objects and here comes Dead Hooker in a Trunk to theoretically fly in the face of that. But while the titular lady of the night is subjected to all the disposability the premise entails, the Soska Twinsí debut is a surprisingly effective blast of girl power in the order of vintage grindhouse films. Best of all, its reverence for the genre is nothing but sincere, which goes a long way in compensating for its amateur production values. As is always the case, itís best to be earnest in spite of your flaws rather than jokingly embrace them and turn your movie into a joke, and, despite the title, Dead Hooker in a Trunk isnít a complete joke.

That said, it is a thoroughly offbeat look at the loves of two sisters, Geek (Jen Soska) and Badass (Sylvia Soska); the former is a devout church-goer who pals around with a guy dubbed Goody Two-Shoes (CJ Wallis), while the other haunts punk clubs with fellow riot girl Junkie (Rikki Gagne). One day, the group is dismayed to find a dead hooker in the trunk of their car, a discovery that sends them on an unhinged journey through the seedy parts of town, where they encounter some of the hookerís bloodthirsty clients.

For whatever reason, whether by accident or design (you never feel too confident that the Soskas are in complete control of this freight train), Dead Hooker in a Trunk never feels like a thoroughly breathless trip but rather approaches the languidness of a hangout movie. Long stretches center on the groupís struggle to rid themselves of the dead body, a quandary that leads them to dirty motel rooms and desolate backwoods locales. Violence punctuates each of these episodes in jarring fashion and usually results in the loss of one body part or another, be it an eye being ruthlessly bludgeoned from one of the twinsí skull or Junkie having her arm ripped off by a barreling semi-truck.

Itís these fits of violence that give the film its verve, as they play out in true exploitation fashion: gratuitously, with a hint of absurdity (for example, Geek affixes a makeshift patch made of duct tape over her missing eye), and practically. Itís during these moments especially that viewers detect the Soskaís planting of their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and the film becomes progressively sillier as its characters arrive at the riotously dumb truth behind the hookerís death (at first, Badass and Junkie suspect they might have had something to do with it in their drunken hazeóthe truth is actually much, much wilder in that it involves a deformed penis).

Allowing the film to build up to a crescendo and unfold along gender lines feels apt. If Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the spiritual successor to feminist revenge flicks of the grindhouse era, it follows that it should eventually take up arms (read: baseball bats, chainsaws, etc.) for the cause. In some respects, the dead hookerís body serves as a transgressed site to be avenged much like other female bodies in similar films, only this time itís done so on her behalf by a group of goofballs who seemingly have nothing better to do. Expectedly, the Soskas rarely flinch when portraying violence against women (the flashback to the hookerís demise is particularly brutal and gratuitous), but they ramp up the savagery even more when dispatching men, an approach that makes the film read like freshman level feminist discourse delivered with a wild howl, but the movie feels so simultaneously harmless that itís sort of difficult to even take its musings seriously.

Of course, the effort is niceóitís always admirable when a film like this bothers to respect the grindhouse legacy by attempting to say something, no matter how juvenile or stupid it may be. Dead Hooker in a Trunk isnít exactly a revelatory take on this genre, but it is a weirdly sweet one with a noticeable affection for its group of oddballs and losers. Almost impossibly, this bunch wins you over with their commitment towards each other, especially the two sisters who couldnít much more unalike yet find a common interest in beating the shit out of scuzzy guys. Somehow, this group slowly endears themselves quite wellóby the end of the film, I was struck by just how much these goofs had won me over.

Itís a good thing, too, because thatís necessary in sanding out some rather rough edges. Essentially a glorified student film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is an effort in extremely lo-fi filmmaking, full of amateur acting performances (including the twinsí turns) and creaky production values. The Soskas employ a pseudo-documentary style that adds grittiness to the proceedings but also highlights the backyard nature of their production, which already has to overcome a pretty Troma-esque screenplay in the first place (one of its repeated attempts at gallows humor is Goody Two Shoes puking his guts out). This is the sort of film where the participants served in multiple capacities and appropriately feels like it was strung together with pure grit, muscle, and chanceóusing the only locations that were available to them and the music of local bands (whose thrashy riffs combine with the gore in a manner that recalls Todd Sheets's homespun productions), the Soskas managed to stitch together a film thatís remarkably coherent and even approaching enjoyable (well, as enjoyable as something called Dead Hooker in a Trunk can be).

Apparently inspired by fellow Canuck Jason Eisenerís Hobo With a Shotgun, Dead Hooker in a Trunk honors the exploitation legacy and strives to live up to it, even when it has so little means that it canít help but fall a little short. Itís the sort of film that Robert Rodriguez would have made (and Carlos Gallardoís appearance is not-so-subtle nod to the Soskasí hero) back when he was actually constrained by various limitations; how ironic that his ample sandbox has only reduced him into a hollow shell of self-parody. Hopefully, the Soskas fare better in their leap to bigger budgets; I am not sure I completely love Dead Hooker in a Trunk, but I do love its sincerity, and itís for that reason I look forward to checking out the Soskasí other efforts (that they both feature Katharine Isabelle is probably reason enough, but you get my point). Rent it!



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