If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch 88, the best film of the year so far.
88 opens with a close-up of Gwen (Katharine Isabelle). Gwen is sitting in a diner and she has no idea how she got there. All she knows is that her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid) is dead and that she believes that her former employer, Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) is responsible. Oh, and Gwen’s hand is also covered in a bloody bandage, largely because she’s missing a finger. When Gwen tries to leave the diner, several gumballs and a gun fall out of her bag. The cops eating breakfast overreact. A waitress panics. Gwen accidentally shoots someone as she flees.
Still with no idea where she is exactly or how she got there, Gwen discovers that she has a motel room key on her. When she goes to the motel room, she discovers that the walls are covered with newspaper clippings. And, of course, there’s a corpse in the bathtub. On top of that, there’s also a rather hyperactive man named Ty (Tim Doiron, who also wrote the film’s script). Gwen claims to have never seen Ty before. Ty, however, says that they’re friends and they’re planning on killing Cyrus together.
Meanwhile, as we watch Gwen try to figure out what’s going on, we also follow the adventures of Flamingo (again played by Katharine Isabelle). Flamingo is a tough-talking survivor, the type of girl who, when we first meet her, is busy strangling a random motorist so that she can use his car. Flamingo goes from motel to motel, always staying in room 88. She obsessively drinks milk. When she runs into Cyrus and his gang on the street, they claim to know her. However, Flamingo has no idea who they are.
Which, of course, does not mean that she’s not willing to kill them…
88 is a masterpiece of the grindhouse imagination, an over-the-top film that not only embraces its pulpy origins but practically revels in them as well. The film is full of wonderfully strange and crazy moments, like when Gwen and Ty visit a flamboyant gun dealer or when Flamingo casually trashes a convenience store for no reason beyond the fact that she apparently feels like doing so. There is not a single character in 88 who is not, in some way, memorably odd. Between Gwen’s amnesia, Flamingo’s psychotic behavior, Ty’s cheerful embrace of violence, and Cyrus’s raspy monologues, 88 presents a world that is familiar and yet uniquely its own. When Michael Ironside shows up as a strict but good-hearted sheriff, it only makes sense that, in the world of 88, Michael Ironside would be the face of law, order, and decency.
Now, to be honest, you’ll probably figure out just how exactly Gwen and Flamingo are related long before the film actually makes it explicit. You probably figured it out just from reading this review. But it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, the specifics of the twist really doesn’t matter. This film is a celebration of pure style and pulp energy. Katharine Isabelle is brilliant, both as Gwen and as Flamingo. In the role of Gwen, Isabelle gives a very sympathetic performance. You want to understand what is happening to Gwen and, even more importantly, you want her to survive. Meanwhile, as Flamingo, Isabelle is a force of pure, destructive nature. Finally, in the role of Cyrus, Christopher Lloyd is a sleazy marvel and even manages to bring a hint of humanity to an occasionally demonic character.
88 is one of those films that will probably never get the critical support that it deserves. However, I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.