Two dysfunctional brothers struggle to get by after the death of their parents. The younger counterpart is left in the care of his older brother who is slowly yet surely falling apart emotionally from destructive heavy drinking. Isolated in a dilapidated house and way out in the woods, as well as scorned by the rest of the town, the younger brother responds to finding a monster by trying to befriend it.
Crafting a story from a delicate premise, Slapface is effective at isolating and imperilling vulnerable youngsters whose innocence makes them ill-prepared for the dark reality facing them – giving the production an ever present precarious edge. Essentially, it sets a tone that permeates the entire production in a compelling dread, easily drawing viewers into the story.
‘Slapface’, as is the title, refers to a “game” the brothers use to punish each other. If you come to this film expecting faces to be slapped, it will only be a matter of seconds before you hit a payoff. Joking aside, the game is used as a peculiar coping mechanism instead of played for insensitive gags or crass sensationalism – it exists as a way for the brothers to ground themselves in an unpredictable world.
Undeniably, portraying youth fending for themselves, and cracking under the strain of the stress, is a major theme of Slapface – to the point where the emergent supernatural elements don’t always come across as the immediate concern. Arguably, a world where they have to live on the fringes and the emotional distress it causes acts as the greatest threat, perhaps even more so than the creatures that stalk the brothers.
Regardless of focus, the ‘Virago’ manages to remain an ever present, yet ambiguous, force throughout the movie. Slightly menacing at best, the potential of these creatures is underwhelming, as it is easy to imaging them as a more daunting force. Essentially, the true nature of the Virago is the driving mystery of the dark fairytale which unfolds, while being a deceptively strong play upon several familiar tropes. As such, the production comes across as a slow burner – the monster’s existing to imbue some additional mystery into the plot. Thankfully, for those looking for more thrills, the final act kicks the pace into a bonkers high gear – absolutely worth the patience.
Bringing the complex narrative to fruition, August Maturo (as Lucas) and Mike Manning (as Tom) use brotherly love as a means to shield themselves from the grim reality they face. Consequently, the production succeeds as a family drama, the weight of young people struggling with heavy emotions keeping the horror elements grounded in familiar hardships. The play on juvenile love is further explored through two love interests that introduce layer to the core dynamic. Libe Barer (as Anna) tries to fill a maternal role as the older brother’s girlfriend, while Mirabelle Lee (as Moriah) imbues that awkward childlike crush that further complicates Lucas’s own coming-of-age in an already turbulent environment.
Nothing goes smoothly for anyone in this movie, to the point of it nearly tipping over into outright misery and hopelessness. Thankfully, the cast is able to embody the complexity of emotions in a meaningful manner, which will have viewers supporting their plight even in bouts where they act out on childish impulses. Ultimately, the performances from the young cast is commendable in their ability to navigate heavy themes.
Slapface is a strange, sad, and frequently brutal fairytale that can be hard to watch at times, yet is an ultimately interesting experience that dares to be different. It leans into the darkness old school fairytale imagery can offer and has multiple interpretations of events that should lead to lively discussion in future. Even just among cult fans of lesser known movies, Slapface will deliver a subtle horror with some interesting ideas to unpack.
We watched Slapface as a part of Grimmfest 2021
Luke Greensmith is an Editor at the Grimoire of Horror and an active folklorist as well as working in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.