The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - SLAPFACE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - SLAPFACE

slapface review
A troubled boy befriends a witch.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeremiah Kipp

Starring: August Maturo, Mike Manning, Dan Hedaya, Mirabelle Lee, Lukas Hassel, Libe Barer, Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio

slapface poster

The title of director Jeremiah Kipp's latest feature, Slapface, refers not to some new Leatherface-esque masked villain but to a "game" played by its protagonists, orphaned brothers Tom (Mike Manning) and Lucas (August Maturo). Following their parents' death in a car crash which their sons survived, twentysomething Tom has been left to raise rebellious tween brother Lucas. They regularly indulge in bouts of slapface, which sees one brother slap the other, with the recipient returning the blow with greater force. It's initially left ambiguous as to why Tom forces his brother to engage in such a physically gruelling activity. Is it a form of punishment or some twisted coping mechanism? Perhaps it's both.

Regardless, his treatment at his brother's hands is but one of Lucas's troubles. He's bullied on a daily basis by a pair of evil twin sisters (Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio) straight out of the Pentamerone, all while his secret girlfriend (Mirabelle Lee) watches on in silence.

slapface review

Desperate to reconnect with his late mom, Lucas does some googling and learns of the local legend of a witch named Virago that can be summoned by a rite involving blood dripped on his mother's photo. After performing the ritual, Lucas encounters said witch, who grabs him in a tight hold. When he escapes her clutches, Lucas flees, but something draws him back. Perhaps what he needs most of all is to be embraced, even if it is by a witch.

Slapface is part of a long tradition of troubled children encountering monsters in the woods. It stretches back to ancient folklore, but in the cinema it's fuelled such movies as the Spanish duo of Spirit of the Beehive and Pan's Labyrinth, and more recently Adam McDonald's American indie Pyewacket. It's the latter that Slapface feels closest to, partly down to its rural American setting but also to the regret the protagonist experiences when their monster friend begins to pose a threat to those around them.

slapface review

Along with Virago, Lucas is also gifted another surrogate mother in Anna (Libe Barer), the kindly young woman his brother begins dating after a one night stand. Anna sees how troubled Lucas is and begins to worry for his well-being. When Virago's violent acts leave Lucas looking like the chief suspect, Anna seems to become the film's protagonist in the manner of Vera Miles in Psycho. But rather than follow Anna in her investigations, she's sidelined as the film maintains its focus on Lucas. This kills a lot of the film's potential tension, as while we suspect Lucas is unlikely to be harmed by Virago, the same can't be said for Anna, the only other sympathetic character in the movie.

There's an ambiguity around Virago - who is played by a male performer and never moves in a particularly feminine manner - that keeps us guessing as to whether Lucas has really summoned a witch or if it's a creation of his mind and he's the one responsible for the ensuing violence. Kipp goes all out in showing us Virago, who is filmed in shadows at first but is later revealed to look a lot like a bulky person wearing a dime-store Halloween mask. Virago looks so much like a traditional witch that we're forced to begin leaning towards the idea that she's a figment of Lucas's troubled psyche. I won’t spoil the truth, and besides, I'm not sure I've even come to a conclusion regarding this question.

slapface review

If its final act is a little generic and familiar (a late sequence is liberally borrowed from '80s thriller The Hitcher), Slapface has done enough by that point in building its characters and the miserable world they inhabit to keep us invested. A closing title card hammers home the idea that despite its fantasy dressing, this is a movie first and foremost about the psychological damage that can be inflicted on children through bullying, whether at the hands of other kids or those who claim to be raising them as best they can.

 is on Shudder from February 3rd.

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