GORE IN THE STORE
SWEETIE: YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT ****
Directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev.
Starring Daniar Alshinov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Asel Kaliyeva.
Horror comedy, Kazakhstan, 84 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.
Somehow the sight of a man being dragged downriver on a raft made from inflatable sex dolls is not the wildest sight in this gloriously deranged comedy from Kazakhstan. This tale of three friends on a stag do/fishing trip that goes very wrong thanks to the intervention of a family of horse wranglers and a mysterious, revenge driven hermit plays out like an Eastern European version of early Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi. The Hangover films may come to mind when hearing the premise but as memory serves those films never had as many decapitations or full-on facial eviscerations and nowhere near as many laughs per scene as this eighty-four-minute exercise in anarchy.
Expectant father Dastan gets whisked away from his heavily pregnant, easily annoyed wife by his friends Arman and Marat for a weekend away. With a van filled to the rafters with inflatable sex dolls and a couple of fishing rods what should have been a fun break soon turns into a battle with the aforementioned horse wranglers and that enigmatic loner who looks like he’s wandered in from a post-apocalyptic dystopia.
This simple premise is filled to the brim with surreal incident and crazy characters. What could have quickly become annoying or unbearable; a cast of loud mouthed, selfish characters pitted against each other, is instead a swift and hilarious, horror inflected tale of friendship and loyalty. Yernar Nurgaliyev directs with a steady hand here, knowing how to keep events just the right side of ridiculous. The OTT tone is present throughout but Nurgaliyev brings a breeziness to the proceedings that is accompanied by impressive character development which may be unexpected but still managing to fit in effortlessly with everything else.
He also manages to helm an impressive number of action setpieces that often descend into various levels of bloody carnage. One setpiece towards the end also displays an exceptional skill in developing tension as our heroes try to evade a half-blind madman in his backwoods shack. It is a tense yet funny scene that stands out, not just for its silent nature, but the directors command of controlled action in a limited setting.
The performances from the trio of friends also manage to stay likable despite their many faults. Their misfortune, and varying levels of injury and mutilation, lead to just as much sympathy on the audience’s side as laughter. It adds up to an immensely satisfying package that will undoubtedly go on to become a cult item among horror audiences with a taste for the ridiculous and comedy fans with a taste for the obscure and outrageous. No doubt a crowd pleaser with its home audience its unique brand of bloody lunacy more than deserves to find as appreciative an audience overseas. After its successful FrightFest screenings, both physical and digital, here is hoping that some adventurous distributor will see fit to unleash it on an unsuspecting audience here.