There’s a rich history of indie filmmakers getting their start with low-budget crime pictures. It’s easy to see why: The genre gives ample opportunities for sex and/or violence, and instead of special effects or elaborate sets all you really need is a crafty screenplay and a dollop of style. Think Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, the Coens’ Blood Simple, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, or the Wachowskis’ Bound. Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth’s Baby Money doesn’t reach the heights of those modern genre touchstones, but it’s a fine thriller, blessedly devoid of the self-conscious, hip posturing of all those mid-’90s/early-2000s Tarantino knock-offs. Bassilli and co-writer MJ Palo have crafted a mean, claustrophobic genre outing, light on unnecessary chatter and heavy on life-and-death decisions.
Pregnant and desperate for money, Minny (Danay Garcia) agrees to play getaway driver for her fuck-up boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) and the unhinged Tony (Travis Hammer) on what they think will be a simple break-and-enter robbery. Their target: a little purple box the contents of which are unknown, to be sold to similarly unknown buyers. Of course, things go awry, and Minny has to flee the scene in their car, leaving Gil and a now-injured Tony behind. With police officers crawling all over the neighborhood and helicopters circling overhead, Gil and Tony wind up hiding in the home of Heidi (Taja V. Simpson) and her son Chris (Vernon Taylor III). What follows is a particularly tense race against the clock: Gil and Tony will receive a call on a burner cellphone to meet the buyers for their ill-gotten gains, and if they miss the call, they miss the payday, making all their suffering for naught. The problem is, Minny has the burner phone with her, and the film proceeds to crosscut between her efforts to find another car to retrieve Gil and Tony while, back at Heidi’s house, Gil has to keep an increasingly volatile Tony from harming Heidi or her son.
Beyond the top-notch thriller mechanics, which tighten like a vice grip as the film progresses, the filmmakers manage to thread through a potent undercurrent of female solidarity and strength. Minny hatches a plan to get a car off of a particularly smug guy who recognizes her as his favorite stripper, and then must trick the police into letting her past their crime scene tape. Meanwhile, Heidi too proves to be more crafty and resourceful than her captors give her credit for. These are women who are used to cleaning up the messes left behind by uncaring or incompetent men — and they are tired. The inevitably violent climax is shocking without being unduly nihilistic, as all the simmering tensions come to a head and hard choices must be made. Baby Money is a fine debut feature, with a uniformly excellent cast, and if it’s not exactly reinventing the genre it at least shows there’s still room for solid, unpretentious thrillers that know how to turn the screws on an audience.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 3.