If the title Slapface sounds familiar it’s because I reviewed the original short back when the site was just getting off the ground. Now writer/director Jeremiah Kipp (Theresa & Allison, The Sadist) has expanded it to feature-length. Expanding any short to full length is a risky undertaking, what works at fifteen or twenty minutes may be drawn out and dull at ninety. Changes to the plot may ruin the mood or message of the original. That’s even more true for something like Slapface which relied heavily on feeling and emotion.
Lucas (August Maturo, The Nun, Girl Meets World) and Tom (Mike Manning, The Call, Delerium) lost their parents in a car accident, leaving Tom an unprepared and somewhat unwilling guardian for his younger brother. He would much rather be at the bar with Anna (Libe Barer, I See You, Disfluency) than be at home, or at work for that matter. This leaves Lucas on his own a lot and he spends his time wandering around the woods and getting into trouble with the cops, and Sheriff Thurston (Dan Hedaya, Commando, Alien: Resurrection) has warned Tom he can’t keep social services out of it much longer.
The obvious difference between the two versions of Slapface is the original centred around a father/son relationship while here it’s two brothers. Kipp has also expanded the cast considerably, also adding twin sisters twins Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio, I Am Mortal, Remnants of the Fallen) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio, I Am Mortal, Remnants of the Fallen) who bully Lucas and their friend Moriah (Mirabelle Lee, Blood Ties) whose attitude towards him depends on whether or not the other two are around. It’s this trio who will goad him into going into the house where he meets Virago (Lukas Hassel who played the Ogre in the short).
What hasn’t changed is the emphasis on relationships, dysfunctional ones, for the most part, illustrated by the brother’s borderline abusive ritual that gives the film its title. There are plenty of horrors here even before the creature makes its entrance. But these are the kinds of real-life horrors we’re more accustomed to seeing in dramas rather than genre films. And in that sense Slapface can be seen as the flip side of Spielberg’s films like ET. The kids aren’t alright, home isn’t in a plush housing development and the creature you find and befriend isn’t a harmless alien that just wants to go home.
Slapface is a dark and depressing film powered by great performances from Maturo and Manning with excellent support from Barer and Lee. As he did in the original Hassel does a great job portraying something both monstrous and in its own way, tragic. You can understand why the boy and this creature bond, and why there’s no way it can end any way but badly.
Kipp accentuates their performances with solid direction and, along with cinematographer Dominick Sivilli (The Moose Head Over the Mantel, The Blood Shed), makes the most of the film’s settings, especially the brown leaveless fall woods and the abandoned building that serves as Virago’s home. The resulting visuals match the script’s relentlessly grim tone and increase the feeling of impending tragedy.
With its themes of bullying, anger, and the inability to express negative emotions in a healthy way, Slapface is more than just another monster in the woods film. But it’s not a dull exercise in elevated horror either, it has its share of scares and mayhem. It’s one of the few films that can find the right balance between the two. Hopefully, this will take Kipp from the ranks of directors for hire and let him bring more of his own projects to life because the genre needs more films like Slapface.