Welcome to Knockout Horror and our review of Shudder original horror movie Slapface. Speaking of which, I feel like I should slap myself in the face for watching this drek.
I am on a bit of a pessimism streak with the latest movies I have reviewed. This isn’t intentional. Perhaps I am hard to please or perhaps there is a ton of overrated garbage around at the moment. Knockout Horror is an independent site so I owe nothing to anyone other than the truth so these reviews reflect my honest opinion. We do have some reviews coming up for movies I loved so keep an eye out for those.
I always aim to keep my reviews spoiler free. Whilst I think this review is spoiler free, it’s difficult to talk about Slapface without addressing things that are at the core of the movie. With this in mind, reading the review before watching the movie may give away things that might not become apparent until about 10 minutes in.
I have just added a Slapface Ending Explained article for you guys to check out. I think the ending was vague enough for us to cover it in our Horror Movie Ending Explained section. The movie appears to be going one way then flips it on its head. Keep in mind that the explanation is how I see it and may or may not be accurate but, if you have watched Slapface, have a read and see whether you agree. The links will open in a new page or tab. As with most things I write, the article can get a little wordy so apologies in advance.
I really feel as though movies featuring Horror Festival related badges on the cover are trying to warn you. It’s almost a form of aposematism. The Poison Dart Frog has bright colours, Rattle Snakes have a rattle, and dreadful horror movies have a Frightfest badge. Either way they all scream “fuck with me and you will end up feeling ill”.
I really don’t believe appearing at these events, or even being well regarded by viewers at said events, is that big of a plaudit. I am sure these festivals are fairly welcoming to films like Slapface. They need movies to show off to bring people in and the people who attend them are, seemingly, easily pleased. Whack in a loosely veiled metaphor for mental illness, set the pacing to glacial, make the viewer feel smart and you are golden. Another festival darling that will be adored by the horror review community. Well, today we have a movie that ticks all of those boxes quite spectacularly – Slapface.
Slapface is a “Monster in the woods” type story directed and written by Jeremiah Kipp that started life as, and probably should have remained as, a short movie. I feel like so many of these movies that are adapted from shorts are lacking something and suffer from major pacing issues. It’s like movie versions of 30 minute TV shows; it rarely works.
Slapface is utterly bogged down in its own seriousness and the eagerness to get across a message that, when all is said and done, is so blurred and messy that they have to add an addendum to the credits to clear things up. Here we have yet another horror movie in the style of The Babadook. It wants, so badly, to be a meaningful, slow burn, intelligent drama with slight horror elements but, unlike The Babadook, it is poorly constructed, poorly paced, not very scary and, at times, utterly ridiculous.
I actually resent the horror industry at the moment for pumping out so many of these types of movies. Is it just me or does every horror have to have a metaphor and a deeper meaning? It’s as if horror can’t just be horror. If you aren’t trying to make a political or social statement you are wasting your time.
Worse still, the audience ego stroking seems to create something of a shield to criticism. People appear to think that because they recognised the “hidden” meaning of the movie the movie must be fantastic and made for incredibly intelligent viewers like them. Thankfully user reviews of these movies tend to demonstrate that the greater horror community is not fooled by these tactics and they recognise these movies for what they are.
I really hate to think of what classic slashers like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween would have been like if made today. We have already seen what they did to Black Christmas and that was not pretty.
It’s probably worth me pointing out that not all movies like this are bad. It’s just that everyone is making them now. Think of the number of different pairs of wireless earbuds you can buy right now on Amazon. Only a handful of them are actually worth the investment, the rest are cheap crap that would be a huge waste of money. Slapface is equivalent to a pair from a dollar store.
Slapface mostly focuses on young teen Lucas ( August Maturo) who has recently lost his parents and is being cared for by his older brother Tom (Mike Manning). There is a lot of drama surrounding the two as Lucas is apparently acting up and getting into trouble with the police. I don’t actually know why he gets in trouble, this wasn’t elaborated on in any significant way, but it doesn’t seem to be anything particularly bad.
The local sheriff, who apparently feels some obligation to Tom due to knowing his Mum, warns Tom to keep an eye on Lucas. This leads to some tension regarding the family potentially being split up. Despite this, Tom doesn’t really do anything to make the situation better so this is one of a number of plot elements that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Speaking of not elaborating on things that happen; Tom meets a girl called Anna (Libe Barer) in a bar and, without any hint that they were attracted to each other outside of Tom admiring her tattoos, she suddenly appears in their house and practically lives with the two for the remainder of her time on screen. She spends the majority of the film playing the pseudo older sister arguing with Tom over her concerns for Lucas and attempting to relate to the troubled teen.
Lucas, after a scene where he is bullied in the woods by a pair of twins and their friend Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) is dared to enter what looks like an abandoned asylum.
In there he meets a monster (that looks distinctly like a witch, complete with hooked nose and everything) and, gradually over time, befriends said monster. The monster becomes Lucas’ only real friend and it is apparent that the monster will protect Lucas at all costs.
As time moves on, Lucas becomes the centre of a number of strange happenings and the people around him, including the sheriff, grow increasingly concerned. Tom is developing a serious alcohol problem (drinking purely Coors light which is an achievement in itself) and is seemingly uninterested in dealing with Lucas outside of physical discipline. Lucas is also being constantly bullied by the twins despite developing a complicated relationship with the twin’s friend Moriah.
I am not going to beat around the bush. What a stupid title for a film. For those of you who are curious, Slapface is a game that Lucas plays with his older brother Tom. whenever Lucas has done something wrong. It is a type of abuse disguised as discipline where the two will slap each other’s faces. Obviously, Tom is a dude who looks well into his 30s so to say that the 13-14 year old Lucas is at a disadvantage would be an understatement. This game plays, somewhat, into the larger narrative of the movie, which is fine, but what an absolutely awful title.
Everything that happens in Slapface is geared towards pointing out that “bullying is bad, kids”. I mean, by the time you are of a legal age to watch this movie you will likely know that anyway and Slapface won’t be a big revelation to you but it is what it is.
Bullying can come in many forms, whether it is domestic, at the work place, or at school. Either way it is bad and can lead to massive implications for both the victim and the bullies. The cycle of abuse is apparent in Lucas’ domestic life and his social life is no better.
This is a fine message, it is just executed in such a terrible manner. Are we to ascertain from this that the events depicted in the movie are a result of mental illness or are they literal? Is the monster real or a the result of years of bullying and abuse? The ending suggests one thing but the events leading up to the ending make that seem entirely impossible and, actually, completely ridiculous.
There is one thing in particular that happens towards the end that will have you almost 100% sure you know what is going on only for the it to be flipped on its head. It is farcical and so poorly executed that my partner and I both groaned and laughed at the end. Moving the goal posts for the sake of ambiguity only to try and put them back later on is not good film making.
The monster is probably the best part of Slapface and actually has some potential to be quite scary. As it stands, however, it had me laughing at various points of the movie for how ridiculous it is. The things that Lucas and the monster got up to had me thinking of Mac and Me or Chunk and Sloth in the Goonies.
Don’t get me wrong, I get why they did it….. I think? I assume the monster is supposed to be a reflection of Lucas’ childish side and acts childish along with him. Given the potential mental illness implication that would actually make a lot of sense. It just didn’t seem to fit and felt incredibly awkward in parts. I wanted to be creeped out, not laughing my ass off. The monster may have a greater impact on other viewers but it just didn’t work for me despite looking quite imposing. Some of the close up shots of the monster’s face looked a bit cheesy and lame, as well.
My partner summarised the layout of the story really well when she described it as if the script had blown off a table and they didn’t know which order it went back together in. Moments of plot escalation are disjointed and occur in a random order, a lot of the events make no sense, and there are too many points in the movie that just seem needless. It all adds up to an 85 minute movie that feels 200 minutes long.
Acting is generally okay but, in parts, it is terrible. Mike Manning, who plays Tom, is absolutely awful. This dude has apparently won an Emmy? Do they give those out in cereal boxes now? He was a low point for the movie and steals any potential gravity from every scene he is in. He is one of those actors that has a perma-smile, as well, which undermines some of the events in the movie. Perhaps he just realised how little he was working with and phoned his performance in.
Libe Barer, who plays Anna, is fine and seems pretty authentic in her role as well as helping Mike Manning not seem so stiff in the scenes they share. August Maturo is okay in the lead role of Lucas but his constant crying towards the end came across pretty hammy and fairly annoying. Everyone else is somewhere in between adequate and awful.
The cinematography was pretty good, to be fair. There are some really nice shots with fantastic lighting. Locations were suitably depressing and creepy. It comes across as a very professional movie which can fool you into thinking it is for about 20 minutes.
The monster can look pretty scary and is suitably imposing. Lots of practical effects do a good job of presenting a retro feel to the monster. It is, however, shrouded in shadow for most of the movie. I assume this is to hide the practical effects and make everything seem a little more believable. We never get a full reveal of the monster which is disappointing.
I would normally say that an 85 minute runtime is great but the pacing here is so bad that it feels so much longer than it is.
A messy plot, poor pacing, annoying characters and a thinly veiled metaphor that takes precedence over the scares make Slapface incredibly difficult to recommend. It feels far longer than its 85 minute runtime and has very few scares. Events of the movie feel disjointed and the plot is poorly tied together. Some of the scenes featuring the monster feel absolutely ridiculous and like something from a kid's movie. The movie skirts along a path of mental illness metaphor and literal horror only to apparently clear things up with an insincere message moments after making said outcome seem almost impossible. Cinematography is decent, acting is generally okay, and some people may enjoy the message of the movie. Teens might enjoy this as an easy entry point into more drama based horror. For everyone else, I wouldn't recommend Slapface at all. There are so many movies that do the same thing better.
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