When you have a title like Slapface on a film, you might think the film might be a bit silly or fun, right? Yeah…that is certainly not the case for Shudder’s latest original film. This new horror film is drenched in atmosphere and deals with a variety of heavy themes of grief, classism, and sexism. Heck, the so called “slapface” game is one that represents a toxic and abusive fraternal relationship. All kinds of good vibes coming from writer-director Jeremiah Kipp’s new film.
With all this talk of a darker tone, what is Slapface about? You have a young boy named Lucas who is having a heck of a time after the death of his mother. She had a strong connection with her son, and you can see how it is taking a toll on his young mind. How does this young boy process this terrible grief? He soon sees a towering and grotesque entity that begins to find him in a dilapidated structure. Soon this being finds him everywhere. Things get worse when this being begins to get violent and animals…then people start disappearing. It becomes obvious what Kipp is going for with this creature, but it still hits symbolically, nonetheless.
What is Kipp able to do with this terrifying being and dark tale? There is certainly a dark atmosphere that engulfs the film. There is a somber tone that hits hard whenever Kipp avoids pulling punches when it presents abuse, bullying, and toxicity. There is a somber and heavy cloud that falls upon you when watching the film. The unfortunate thing is that the scares don’t always land. The creature appears quite a few times in the film, but most don’t feel as terrifying as they could be. But one stands above the rest when it comes to an eerie walk through a dark and battered police station. The use of shadow and slow creeping camerawork which works so well.
How does Kipp’s screenplay handle the themes that the story tackles? Grief is such a central device of the film and is wrapped tightly in symbolism and atmosphere. This toxic relationship building between Lucas and this creature is awful and violent. His rage and violence channels through this entity and grief takes out all around him. Toxic relationships fill out the film from the violent relationship that exists between Lucas and his older brother Tom. Tom’s relationship with his girlfriend is filled with yelling and altercations. Poor Lucas is hidden by his secret girlfriend who is quick to bully him in the presence of her friends (he is poor and cannot possibly be good enough for her).
Do the actors match the efforts of Kipp’s writing and directing? Young August Maturo is saddled with a tough job of channeling Lucas’ grief and rage. His co-star Mike Manning portrays his older Tom with a simmering rage below. The scenes when they play “slapface” are hard to watch as both actors bring their all with rage and shattered toughness. Both brothers are brought to life with plenty of emotion. Shout out as well to a strong veteran presence, Dan Hedaya, who delivers some strong acting as the sheriff in this small town with a special connection to the family.
Does Kipp offer up something interesting and fresh on Shudder? Even if the scares don’t deliver as well as they could, the emotions of the film deliver a powerful message. This is a tough and somber ride that leaves little hope when this film ends. If that is something that will bother you, this one might not be for you. But there is plenty of potential for Kipp’s Slapface.