This year, I'm mostly checking out Shudder's original content based on recommendations from friends, who are a much better judge of horror's merits than I am. Slapface was the first of their 2022 output that I've watched, and frankly, I wasn't all that impressed. This film suffers from a serious pacing problem, and it tries to make a point about the dangers of bullying, which is valid. Only problem is that point is hammered home so damn hard that any subtlety goes right out the window along with the coherence of the plot. What the hell was this witch and did it even exist? Who the hell knows?
After their parents are killed in a car crash, Tom (Manning) and his younger brother Lucas (Maturo) live alone. To express their rage and exhaustion at life, they play a game called Slapface, where they take turns slapping each other across the face. Tom's girlfriend Anna (Barer) is horrified by this, but Tom insists its harmless. Meanwhile, Lucas is relentlessly bullied by the girl he likes and her friends, and one day he befriends a weird witch ghost called Virago (Hassel). Virago starts killing anyone who is mean to Lucas, so shit gets out of hand quickly. The ending is left ambiguous. We aren't sure if Virago was real or if Lucas had snapped and slaughtered everyone.
I think if Slapface was a bit more focused on the horror than the drama, this could've been much better. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The creature effects on Virago reminded me so much of Roald Dahl's The Witches, which didn't exactly inspire fear. The scariest thing about this movie is how quick everyone is to dismiss bullying and fear tactics as just harmless kid stuff. There's a point to be made here, but I'd be lying if I said I knew what it was.
You know, looking at this title and you would think Shudder just uploaded some low budget slasher film with a terribly titled killer. I can totally admit that was my initial thought when I heard about this film. Instead, upon viewing, what I got was a slow burn horror film which deals with the harsh reality of abuse and bullying. While also mixing in a monster for good measure. Oh, and an ending which will seriously wreck you emotionally. Just have to be able to sit through the admittedly slow moving story to get to said ending. At least there’s the occasional moment of violence since this is still a horror film.
This is the rare horror film which relies heavily on its central performances. Thankfully, both August Maturo and Mike Manning are up to the task as the two brothers. Manning does a terrific job as the older brother who is doing what he can to watch after his younger brother. All the while clearly fighting the urges to be like his hinted at abusive father and drowning in alcohol to mask the pain. Maturo, on the other hand, is a revelation as the younger brother who acts out and is just trying to make it through each day. From bullies at school to his home life, he isn’t given a break. Maturo absolutely rises to the occasion and shows he is a serious talent to watch out for. This being a low budget film, they do the smart thing by never fully showing the monster. Usually hidden in shadows or the camera only capturing parts, it creates a continuous uneasy feeling with both the monster and the relationship which develops with the main characters. These elements alone come together to give you one of the most emotionally devastating endings I’ve witnessed in a horror film. If there is one thing which holds this film back, it’s the pacing. The slow burn approach can be a detriment at times and makes for the occasional moment of slog.
While it appeared Shudder came swinging with the documentaries last month, Slapface shows promise for the horror films they’re premiering this month. While the slow pacing can get the better of this sometimes; the performances are stellar, monster pretty cool, and an ending which will leave you speechless.