Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hubrisween 2015 :: H is for Hit and Run (2009)

On October 26, 2001, Chante Mallard, buzzing on a cocktail of marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol, was driving home from a friend’s apartment after a hard night of clubbing in Fort Worth, Texas. Somewhere along the way, she struck a homeless man with her car, later identified as Gregory Biggs; and so great was the impact Biggs’ body wound up punching through the front windshield where it got stuck. But instead of calling the police or an ambulance, a panicked and stoned Mallard drove on home, parked the vehicle in her garage, and left Biggs, who was still alive, where he landed, impaled through the glass and, essentially, waited for him to bleed to death.

When Biggs finally died after an unknown amount of time (coroner estimates put it at several hours at the least), Mallard, a former nurse’s aide, contacted a friend who helped her remove the body from the car and then moved the corpse to a park where it was abandoned, and then set about destroying all the evidence, including trying to burn parts of Mallard’s car. After several months passed where no one linked her to the crime, in not the wisest of moves Mallard began bragging and laughing about the incident – until she blabbed in front of the wrong person who passed it along to the authorities. At trial, it came to light that if Briggs had been given prompt medical attention there was little doubt he would have survived his injuries. And so, in June of 2003, Mallard was convicted of murder and given a 50 year sentence plus ten more for tampering with evidence.

This gruesome case and the gross negligence by its perpetrator made national headlines and inspired all kinds of rumors and hearsay about how Mallard had sex with her boyfriend while Biggs was slowly bleeding to death; or how Mallard checked on Biggs several times, who pitifully asked for help, only to be ignored until his death. After the trial the notorious incident would go on to inspire episodes for several small screen police procedurals. Then, in 2007, Stuart Gordon brought it to the big screen as a [jet] black comedy with Stuck, which takes a few dramatic liberties and few absurdist twists that result in a nasty little flick. Two years later, first time director Enda McCallion’s Hit and Run (2009) mixed the Mallard case with the old urban legend where a black-out drunk driver thinks he’s hit a dog on the way home, sleeps it off, only to discover the following morning, to his horror, that it wasn’t a dog at all but an eight-year-old girl he hit because she’s still lodged in the grill of his car!

Here, our tale begins with college student Mary Murdock (Breckenridge) being talked into one more round of shots at a bar before heading home for spring break. And so, a little tipsy, Mary fires up her Jeep and hits the road. Several dozen miles later, while tinkering with the radio, the driver rounds a curve and sees what’s left of a detonated semi-tire impeding the road and haphazardly swerves to miss it, resulting in a little impromptu and violent off-road action. Once she gets the vehicle back under control, on the pavement and stopped, Mary lets out a sigh of relief over this close call.

After that, the rest of the journey home is pretty uneventful. She parks in the darkened garage of her parent’s home (the bulb is burned out), then follows some old sagely alcoholic’s advice by inducing some vomiting – trust me, she’ll feel better in the morning. But after hitting the sack, Mary is soon awoken by some strange noises emanating from the garage. Noises that, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’, sound exactly like the Portsmith Sinfonia trying to pull off the theme to JAWS. (If this was intended as menacing or comical homage is up to each individual viewer.)

With flashlight in hand, Mary investigates only to discover a bloodied and mangled body stuck to the front of her Jeep! Obviously, she accidentally hit someone while running herself off the road without realizing it (more plausible than it sounds); and after a few quick pokes prove the man is still alive, Mary moves to help him. But the delirious man starts flailing and angrily grabs for her, causing a frightened Mary to grab a nearby golf club, which she promptly uses to beat the man to death. From there, panic and self-preservation take over as Mary pries the man loose (and one has to wonder if those giant improbable meat-hooks on the bumper were part of an extended Mad Max package from the dealership), wraps the body up in a blanket, and buries him in a shallow grave deep in the New Jersey woods.

The next day is mostly spent destroying evidence of the crime before Mary’s parents return home from a weekend trip. And as the day grinds on, Mary begins to slowly crack-up and starts self-medicating to keep it together. On the local news, she discovers the man she hit was a beloved kindergarten teacher named Timothy Emser (Corrigan), whose wife, Jane (Anderson), says he just went for a late-night walk without his medication and pleads for his safe return. This doesn’t help Mary’s fragile mental state, who confesses to her boyfriend, Rick (Shand), looking for some circumstantial absolution to ease her conscience. Sticking with the callous theme, Rick is less concerned about his girlfriend actually killing someone and more concerned that she won’t have sex with him now because of it. And as Mary’s paranoia grows deeper, she realizes she buried an incriminating blanket with Emser and convinces Rick to meet at the grave site to retrieve it. When Rick doesn’t show as promised, Mary works to exhume the corpse alone only to find Emser gone with Rick’s dead body left in his place…

While this kind of tale could have led to an interesting character study on the motivations of why someone would react the way Mallard or Mary did, or any of us for that matter, to this dire set of circumstances and the strange, counter-intuitive compulsion to confess, Hit and Run is not that film. What it is a fairly effective thriller, especially when considering its first effort status. The film is not concerned with why but focuses solely on the how – and the bloodier the better, as things go completely bonkers after Emser proves to still be alive. He trails Mary back to her house and torments her further, and eventually turns the tables on her, knocking the girl out and binding her to the front of the Jeep and then takes her for a harrowing joyride, killing a gas station attendant along the way.

Emser eventually winds up this road-trip in his own garage and has a momentarily happy reunion with his relieved wife. But Emser won’t allow her to call an ambulance for him as she tries and fails to dress his multiple wounds. We also find out that those meds he hasn’t been taking for the past few days are for a bi-polar disorder. The Emser’s son is the first to find Mary still bundled to the bumper, who alerts his mom. And while his wife tries to free the captive, Emser kills her with some pruning shears. He then takes Mary back to the burial site. His tit-for-tat intentions are clear, leading to a desperate fight for survival as we breach the climax.

Hit and Run was a lot better than I ever thought it would be – helped immensely by a third act that goes completely off the rails and some bizarre plot twists and contrivances that keeps the audience looking at the screen in amused, cock-eyed wonder. (Parrots? Really? Parrots. Hunh. Also, the Christmas lights for bindings the killer keeps plugging in were a nice touch. And where in the hell did that blowtorch come from?) There are no likable characters here (only Emser’s wife garners any sympathy and look where that got her), but no one escapes unscathed in an ending that sort of works and ultimately satisfies with the scales even.

Breckenridge is called on to carry the film until Corrigan takes over. She isn’t quite up to the task -- close, but not quite. Corrigan, meanwhile, is absolutely terrifying as the unhinged Emser. (Kudos to the make-up department for those mangled teeth and butchered scalp that resulted in a truly terrifying visage that the film exploits brilliantly.) Behind the camera, McCallion, cinematographer Olivier Cocaul and editor Miklos Wright did enough to garner MGM and 20th Century Fox’s attention, who packaged the film as part of a glut of ‘unrated’ direct-to-video, sweaty cleavage-fueled gore-fests. And so there it is, and here we are. And while I enjoyed Hit and Run for all the wrong reasons, odds are your own viewing mileage may vary.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd.

Hit and Run (2009) Ithaka Entertainment :: Maverick Films :: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM):: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / EP: Guy Oseary, Benjamin Sitzer / P: Brent Emery, Mark Morgan, Braxton Pope, Scott Reed, Ron Singer, Andrew Weiner / D: Enda McCallion / W: Diane Doniol-Valcroze, Arthur Flam / C: Olivier Cocaul / E: Miklos Wright / M: Mateo Messina / S: Laura Breckenridge, Kevin Corrigan, Christopher Shand, Megan Anderson, Michael Gell

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