88 – Blu-ray review

Aspiringly trashy in a nervy, low-budget kind of way, “88” takes a standard revenge thriller and folds it into origami convolutions of narrative that include murder, gunfire, lip stitching, gratuitous milk bottles, gumballs, gumball machines, and a gumball where an eyeball should be.

Like some striving, bastard trailer-park offspring of Tarantino and Nolan, the script by co-star Tim Doiron follows two separate but equally violent, before-and-after timelines involving a young woman named Gwen (Katharine Isabelle), who is traumatized into the psychological condition of fugue state. As conveniently explained by an opening title card, this state involves amnesia or fragmented memory, and altered personality. And lots of milk, apparently.

After a tragic incident boots her into this state of confusion and mystery, Gwen finds herself caught up in a quest for revenge against the villainous Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd). At times flashing back to her alter ego persona named Flamingo, she must puzzle out a twisted, sometimes surreal story of bloodshed to avenge the death of her lover, Aster (Kyle Schmid). Michael Ironside also stars as a doughy county sheriff mopping up in Flamingo/Gwen’s wake.

“88” eventually annoys with its jumpy, flash-cut stylization, but there’s energy here, and some stabs at off-kilter humor as well (love that ‘leisure time/business time’ sign). Director April Mullen keeps things moving along, with plenty of goofy shoot-outs and bloody squibs, and a couple of wacked-out detours that distract you from the gimmicks of the chutes and ladders narrative.

The filmmakers dole out the pieces of the puzzle in carefully stingy fashion, so the first thirty minutes are deliberately disorienting, maybe too much so. But then at just the convenient time, along comes a character mouthing large chunks of connect-the-dots exposition in order to keep the ship righted. Like the step-back repetitions that play when the film changes timelines, it’s clunky but keeps viewers on task.

Lloyd seems to have a great time playing the villain of the piece, lurching and shouting and sewing a mouth closed, and using that cold-eyed stare of his to good effect. He runs the table in every scene he’s in, finding hints of character depth in a film that spends most of its effort keeping the plates spinning and the bullets flying.

Video:
The Blu-ray of “88” is presented in a good-looking 16×9 widescreen. The neon-light reds are intense, the dark-brown squibs not so much. There’s decent delineation between the lighting and visual styles of the two distinct timelines. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Audio:
The audio track is 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, with an option for Stereo 2.0. Most of the sound is satisfactory, but I had trouble with a couple of dialogue scenes, where the volume seemed to drop off suddenly.

Extras:

  • a promotional making-of featurette
  • a quite enjoyable 35-minute featurette that takes you on set during filming, with interviewsand gives you a good feel for the people and process involved in an indie production, and the effort involved in keeping the complicated narrative straight.

Parting thoughts:
Surprisingly ambitious in its narrative complexity, but still a straight-to-video thriller at heart, “88” is an occasionally lively tale that eventually wears out its welcome.

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