A child’s emotions can be confusing. So many can arrive at once in confounding and unsettling ways. Especially when you’re dealing with a lot at once: fear, grief, abuse, and it can almost feel… monstrous.
Jeremiah Kipp‘s film Slapface was a truly welcome addition to the genre in the sense that it tackled these themes from a child’s perspective without feeling overtly young or obvious. In fact, by its end, Slapface may leave things a little ambiguous, but it doesn’t take away from its significance or the parallels to real life, as fantastical/fairy tale-esque it may be, even in its final moments.
Kipp, who wrote and directed, drafts a tale that feels somewhat familial to A Monster Calls, but it’s like the disconnected cousin, where Slapface meanders more into the dramatic and the horrific but doesn’t slack on the emotional current that channels this entire tale.
Brothers Lucas (August Maturo) and Tom (Mike C. Manning) have been dealing with the loss of their parents. Of the siblings, Tom has been struggling with alcoholism and guilt. Lucas has as well, along with the usual uncertainties of youth and identity. Tom also has a new girlfriend, Anna (Libe Barer) who is especially cautious about their lifestyle. Lucas has started a new relationship with conflicted Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) who often feigns her feelings when in the midst of her friends: the twin girls who bully Lucas.
When Lucas can’t seem to stay out of trouble, a very limited cameo from Dan Hedaya as the local sheriff gives Tom a talk about how he is raising him. Is the behavior because of his personal afflictions or normal childhood angst? Meanwhile, Tom, who is still a kid himself, is more likely at a bar than paying attention to his brother. It’s a situation that no one should ever have to be put in, and one that exists without a directional roadmap.
After Lucas is bullied, he gives in to a dare and ventures into a boarded-up building, despite having read about some sightings of a monster. He does then encounter it; however, in time, he befriends this entity. Whether it is a formation of his fears, his inner uncertainties, or a real-life abnormal creature, is yet to be seen. Regardless, this creation is intimidating and yet soothing to Lucas in a way much like previous monsters of horrific lore have been. Most of them just want some semblance of understanding and connection. With Slapface the bond takes its time, and you see the relationship serving both healing and destructive purposes.
Sometimes, when in peril, you need a bit of both.
This “monster” is kind to him, but vicious to anyone who he feels threatens Lucas or anyone it is uncertain about. This makes the horror psychological in nature because we all have our demons, but how we rationalize them varies. When a child is at the center, it’s especially hard to do.
Jeremiah Kipp doesn’t do a courtesy to the audience; you know how challenging of a situation it is from the start with the brother’s “Slapface” practice, slapping one another to basically rid themselves of feeling or reliving their pain. These brothers exist amongst the wilderness, detached in many ways, and Slapface utilizes this to an especially stark degree. This is a bleak film. Don’t expect any joy, but definitely anticipate a level of empathy, regardless of the connotations. It’s important to note that the monster effects are low-key, but yet actively effective.
Slapface is a bit of a slow burn, with some tedious moments that don’t always add up. Some viewers may give up early, but hear my rally: it’s worth it. I think this is an independent horror that earns its viewership.
For the most part, the film capitalizes on its voice, which is that of a youth struggling with things most should never have to. No matter how you perceive Slapface, one thing is for sure: you will feel it. It’s gonna burn a hole in you, harsh but perpetually distinct. Its performances and writing are effectually inherent.
We all have our monsters. And, sometimes, we need the monsters to show us the truth, as ugly as they may be.
Slapface is currently streaming on Shudder.