A boy deals with the loss of his mother by creating a dangerous relationship with a monster rumoured to live in the woods.
I have been following writer/director Jeremiah Kipp’s career for a few years now, having watched the short film version of Slapface (2017), Lost + Found (2020) as well as his 2018 film, Black Wake. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the feature-length version of Slapface after hearing that it had been greenlit due to the short receiving numerous positive reviews (ours can be found here). Needless to say, once that screener finally found its way into my inbox, I was more than ecstatic.
Slapface stars August Maturo as Lucas, Mike Manning as Tom, and Libe Barer as Anna, and Mirabelle Lee as Moriah. The film follows the story of Lucas and Tom, now orphaned brothers, as they deal with the uncertainty and emotional strain brought on by grief, as well as bullying, abusive relationships, and the trials and tribulations of adolescence and young love. A traumatic youth has left Lucas somewhat jaded to the typical fears that face most kids his age, which makes for an interesting backdrop to what would eventually become an increasingly harrowing tale of violence and viciousness that blurs the lines between what is real and what may be a broken psyche, a point I definitely will to return to a little later.
The first act is meant to be more of an introduction to our cast of misfits, but also quickly introduces us to our devilish aberration–Slapface, albeit in an almost backwards way to the traditional tropes one is accustomed to from films of a similar genre. The opening scenes have a very awkward, melancholic air and very little makes sense, but it is all very real and genuine and not at all how you expect the first act of a horror film to play out. This was for me, obviously, a pleasant surprise as nothing gets me more into a film than seeing ideas boldly explored and chances bravely taken, regardless of the end result; filmmakers sticking to their real vision and diving in headfirst rather than trying to appease the masses is always something admirable. Aut aleam iace aut perde fortunam; take the risk or lose the opportunity.
As we enter our midway act, we start to get the feeling that all is not as it may seem with Lucas and his new best friend. This is, unfortunately, a trope that we have encountered before and one that is most definitely included in the film to explore the psychological effects of loss and grief, of abuse and mistrust, and how our minds can create ways to escape from our real-world torments. Kipp cleverly walks a tightrope here between the real and the imaginary, never quite letting the audience teeter one way or the other was we try to figure out the “truth” of the film.
As the film builds towards its climax and the body count starts to rise, I found myself genuinely concerned that this was going to end up being another “it was all a dream” or “the creature was just a projection of his psyche.”—or something equally as overdone. Kipp manages to sidestep these clichés without either taking away from the emotional/psychological themes or the genuine horror elements that make the film as captivating as it is. Without giving away too much, I was left feeling more than satisfied with how the film ends; the culmination of the various subplots interweaving without creating a tangled mess.
Technically, Kipp has come a long way in these last few years. Slapface is beautifully shot and masterfully executed. The characters are believable thanks to strong performances all around and the creature is well constructed with just the right amount of creepy. Nothing is overdone and while the kills and practical effects leave much to the imagination, it is done so tastefully as to not overpower the deeper, more psychological aspects of the film. Again, that balance that Kipp manages to find between real-life trauma and waking nightmares seems to translate well when paired with the more sobering and saddening parts of the production, which are made all the more poignant thanks to the eerie score and cold, stark settings.
Kipp’s decision to make the film walk that fine line between folklore, fable and mental instability may also be its weakness when it comes to fan reactions. Fanatics of straight-up creature features may not find the film hardcore enough in the way that it utilizes its big bag while those that enjoy the cerebral, suspenseful side of the movie may find the literal monster and its murderous antics detracting from the core message that lies at the heart of the film. I, personally, loved the duality that we were presented with and enjoyed being given the option to walk away with my own personal takeaway still wholly intact.
Ever since I heard A Perfect Circle’s song Pet (2003), I’d always wanted to see someone make a horror film where a child was protected by a bogeyman rather than threatened by it and that little fantasy of mine has finally been made a reality. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid. Slapface will be releasing on February 3rd on Shudder so those of you who are looking for a creature feature with more depth than the usual guts and gore associated with the genre, please do give Slapface a watch. Trailer and artwork below.
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