Filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp appeared as an interviewee in Julie Kauffman and Paul Hunt’s documentary on grass roots horror The Brilliant Terror on Arrow Video FrightFest’s opening night. Now, he screens his own offering, monster nightmare, Slapface. The film begins with brothers Lucas (August Maturo) and Tom (Mike Manning) slapping each other across the face, they call this game slapface and is some truth telling / trust gauge between the two boys. Of the two boys, Tom is the older, Lucas the younger. Both live in the woods on the outskirts of town alone after the death of their mother. Their circumstances aren’t great and only end up deteriorating further after Lucas makes “friends” with the Virago Witch, a monster that lurks in the wilderness.
Based on his short film of the same name, Slapface expands out the world of the short, exploring some serious sufbjects and themes. Kipp uses this film to spin a wonderfully dark and wicked tale of grief, abuse, abandonment, and loneliness. Despite the monster element, Slapface deals with a lot of real issues and it is these that help ground the piece. It’s similar in a way to something like Pan’s Labyrinth that had all these fantastical elements, which didn’t detract from the impact of Ophelia’s story of living with her step father.
Visually, Slapface is coated in that same sense of depression as the rest of the film. There’s a gorgeous autumnal colour palette and some breathtaking woodland vistas. The score also works perfectly at setting a tone and atmosphere, every scene being different to the rest. Barry J Neely expertly traverses the different moods and emotions for the project, the piece de resistance being the way the score drives the emotion. Whenever the witch monster is on screen, or events begin to get a little creepy, Neely pumps in a pulsing soundscape that sounds like a heartbeat. The industrial / electronic beats mirror the viewers’ heart rate, the intensity getting louder and faster as the scene moves forwards.
August Maturo is exceptional as Lucas. Maturo plays him with the perfect mix of innocent and jaded, just pushing him into awkward. Lucas is a complex character to play, the range of emotions brewing inside of him are numerous and Maturo manages to convey all of them simultaneously. There’s a layered quality to the young actor’s work that demonstrates a mature head and dedicated approach to giving their best performance. Mike Manning also gives a fantastic turn as older brother Tom, a character battling his own problems. He’s lost his mother and become a parent in one swoop, and he has turned to alcohol to numb the pain. His escape into a bottle as well as his resentment of being made to take charge of the house have made Tom somewhat cruel, and it is this that spurs Lucas into the arms of the monster.
The chemistry between the on-screen brothers is brilliant and through a combination of great acting and some believable dialogue, the duo feel related. Lines such as, “How about you go drink a large a glass of go fuck yourself”, demonstrate the pettiness that siblings bring out in one another. There’s also a moment where Tom decides to educate his little brother in the intricacies of relationships, imparting the wisdom, “no means no and always wear a condom”. It’s a valid piece of advice, but not necessarily the traditional delivery for what would normally be a father-son exchange. It further highlights Tom’s inability to properly parent, conjuring laughs and sadness simultaneously.
Kipp reunites with his original short film monster actor, Lukas Hassell, whose presence is felt even when the monster is off screen. As much as Slapface is about the relationship and fragility of the two brothers, the friendship between Lucas and Monster is also important. It is this relationship that forms the catalyst for all the horror elements, the monster, fiercely protective of Lucas, attacks anyone or thing that it perceives as a threat to the boy. The actions almost feel maternal in nature, this being acting as a surrogate mother for the grieving boy. It’s intentions aren’t as pure as that however, as it feeds on Lucas’ pain and anguish. This then creates a feedback loop as Lucas’ fear at his new friends actions continues to nourish its power. Everything within it combines to make Slapface a marvel of fairy-tale storytelling. Tackling powerful topics including grief, bullying, abuse, neglect, and isolation, it creates a warped and absorbing account of broken homes and broken bonds. Beautifully acted and wonderfully realised, Slapface is an insanely good trip into the woods
This review first appeared on THN.