Easily the most thrilling thriller in recent memory, "Crush the Skull" seems destined for cult status. Winner of the Nightfall Award for best horror film at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, it recalls the snappy meta horrors of the mid-1990s almost as though the glut of formulaic straight-to-VOD throwaways circa the mid-2000s never happened.
Upon breaking into a mansion, four hapless burglars see their master plan begin to unravel. Not only is the house empty, there's no way out amid the bare concrete walls and palladium-plated windows. Descending into the basement, they lift a plastic sheet uncovering a stack of DVDs that depict grisly deaths. "So he's into low-budget slasher flicks … with really, really big special-effects budgets," Ollie (Chris Dinh) glibly says to Blair (Katie Savoy) moments before their sickening realization that they are trapped inside a serial killer's dungeon fitted with Temple of Doom-style moving walls.
The tension doesn't relent from there, even when these dolts goof off. Filmmaker Viet Nguyen impressively sustains suspense and paranoia, qualities he first demonstrated with the 2010 short of the same title and its 2013 sequel that loosely serve as the basis for this film.
As with the shorts, screenwriters Dinh and Nguyen here effectively devise dilemmas that force characters to second-guess themselves while also casting doubt in the minds of the viewers. Unlike the archetypes spoofed in a Geico commercial, the characters here have an inkling of their potentially fatal mistakes.
'Crush the Skull'
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes