Slapface (2022)

I’ve been following Jeremiah Kipp’s indie film career for a while now and it was only a matter of time before he managed to explode. “Slapface” is the adaptation of his great 2017 short film that expands on the premise and circumstances involving our main characters. While the movie is primarily a horror film with a folklore bent, it’s also a very stark, grim, and richly developed analyses of grief, loss, toxic masculinity, and the fall out that can stem from psychological abuse. It’s very much in the wheelhouse of “The Babadook” and leaves just as much of a mark when the credits roll.

After the death of his mother, Lucas, a loner who lives in a rundown home with his brother Tom, regularly seeks solace in the nearby woods. After a strange encounter with an inhuman monster, the two reach a trust and a bizarre friendship is born. When violence and carnage begin to follow the witch, Lucas must try and stop his new friend from killing again. Meanwhile, Anna, an outsider in their small town, grows increasingly concerned about the welfare of Lucas while the local Sheriff who has a history with the deceased mother, feels a responsibility to look out for the well-being of her orphaned children.

“Slapface” refers to main character Lucas and his older brother Tom and how they confront their aggression and sadness. They resort to literally slapping each other as a means of catharses. Never once does Tom figure in to how this could mentally destroy Lucas, as both brothers find themselves in a downward spiral. Still grieving their mother and still lingering on the void she’s left behind, “Slapface” examines both brothers as they rely on one another to “fix” each other’s problems. This becomes increasingly difficult as Lucas slowly becomes the focal point of local law enforcement while Tom dangles from alcoholism to a destructive relationship with a girl named Anna. Anna is one of the only really solid structures that enters the household offering the idea of stability, but that’s quickly destroyed as events escalate with both brothers.

Lucas is especially frozen in place as he spends his hours in the woods alone, and looks for new ways to avoid being victimized by a trio of female bullies that delight in torturing him. When he reads up on the legend of a local witch that was said to be living in an abandoned asylum, he takes the chance and asks for her help in resurrecting their mother and bring some balance to his life. For better and worse, this unravels in to a series of violent events and inexplicable crimes. As Lucas manages to try to understand the monster that zealously seeks out the tormentors in his life, Lucas realizes things are getting so much worse before they’re improving.

August Maturo is the heart and soul of “Slapface” offering a truly heartbreaking performance, while Libe Barer and Mike C. Manning are superb. A lot of “Slapface” is a wonderful and well developed exploration of the idea of grief and loss and how it can be a struggle to confront those feelings. Writer/Director Jeremiah Kipp places the themes in to the framework of a toxic household run by a young man who doesn’t seem to understand any kind of way of processing his and his brother’s feelings without physical violence, clear cut denial, and an unhealthy co-dependence.

Writer Kipp doesn’t seem intent on following the pair as they dig their way out of their hole, instead showing us how much bad transforms in to worse, and further down in to just a gut punch of a finale. “Slapface” is a gem of a horror drama filled with important themes, a relevant, heartbreaking message.

Exclusively Streaming on Shudder.