Directed by Jeremiah Kipp.
Starring August Maturo, Mike Manning, Libe Barer.
Horror, US, 86 minutes.


Streaming on Shudder from 3rd February


SLAPFACE takes a story familiar from many a horror film; a bullied child makes friends with a spiritual/monstrous entity which lashes out violently against the child’s tormentors yet manages to achieve something quite different that lingers with the viewer long after watching. Beginning with a sequence that is striking, in more than one sense, where Lucas sits across from his older brother Tom. At Tom’s forceful suggestion they begin a game that shares the film’s title where they slap each other across the face. As cruel as it is simple the game succinctly lays out the troubled relationship between the two orphaned siblings, the horrible situation that Lucas finds himself unwittingly mired in.


This is just one miserable aspect of Lucas’s sad life. He is also constantly bullied by a horrendous set of identical twins, Donna and Rose, and their friend Moriah. Fleeing from them, Lucas finds himself hiding out in an abandoned hospital where he encounters a witch like supernatural figure that is something of a local legend in the small town that Lucas calls home. Seeming to sense Lucas’s painful existence the figure becomes protective of him, in ways that the small boy soon begins to question as his life begins to open in other ways.


Light on plot, this character drama manages to grip the viewers’ attention with its acting, script and photography. The relationship between Lucas and Tom is etched finely with a well written and performed relationship that is believable with its complex mix of casual abuse and co-dependency. Just as well observed is the relationship between Lucas and his bullies that neatly displays the casual cruelty of children that can be taken on the chin. These real-world issues are more harrowing than the supernatural aspects. It feels like a mix of the rural cinema of David Gordon Green and the fantastical aspects of Guillermo Del Toro’s films, particularly THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH, that placed children front and centre of supernaturally affected real world issues.


Hard edged yet tender and filmed through an autumnal haze, SLAPFACE accomplishes a lot with a little. Kipp coaxes believable performances from his entire cast particularly August Maturo as Lucas and Mike Manning as his older brother struggling to raise him. The issue of bullying has rarely been examined in such a realistic fashion in this genre before. It refuses to take the easy way out emotionally and narratively, doubling down with a haunting and troubling climax.


Expanded from his short this directorial debut from Jeremiah Kipp is an impressive calling card. Equal parts horror film and hard-hitting indie family drama SLAPFACE walks a fine line between the genres, notably maintaining its balancing act from beginning to end. This is an impressive example of the low budget American horror film and the ambitious strides the genre has made in the past couple of years.


Iain MacLeod.


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