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Shudder’s Slapface Movie Review

Slapface doesn’t shy away from real-life consequences, and with the heavy material, the team behind the film are able to take somewhat surprising risks. 

slapface movie review

Slapface follows a pair of brothers, both lost in their own ways after their parents died in a car wreck. Younger brother Lucas (August Maturo) is lonely and his only “friends” are a group of teen bullies. He’s dating one of them, Moriah (Mirabelle Lee), but she’s too embarrassed to admit it to twin bullies Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio), so she tells them he’s stalking her.

When Lucas learns more about the myth and local legend of the Virago Witch (“first she was a breeze, then she was a tree,” so goes the rhyme). When he’s dared to explore an old property, he finds the Virago Witch in there, where they strike a most unusual friendship.

Older brother Tom (Mike Manning) is lost in a different way, struggling to raise his younger brother alone, finding solace at the bottom of a bottle. His most unusual “parenting” tactic is a form of punishment, the titular Slapface. The film opens with them playing a game of Tom’s invention Slapface, where they each takes turns slapping the heck out of each other. Everything about this family is a giant red flag…

slapface movie review

Slapface, Abuse, and Social Skills

It’s a most unusual “game,” one that, while it might sound comical, the filmmakers depict it completely straight. The only times it happens comical is when it brings its way into scenes that have more stakes, and characters literally start slapping each other.

This game is how writer and director Jeremiah Kipp approaches an exploration into elevated horror, with a display of domestic abuse that masquerades as a game, a “boys will be boys,” sort-of exercise. As well, Kipp brings in the affects of bullying in his story, even though should have been better defined.

There’s an aspect of the film where it can explore grief more thoroughly. These brothers have lost both of their parents, yet their grief is barely explored (don’t expect meditations on grief à la A Monster Calls). There’s no emotional hook because that grief is missing, but it’s consistent with the brothers’ characters. Tom keeps to himself and has no bandwidth to discuss it (and when he does, he’s drunk and chilling in the bathtub, completely clothed.

slapface movie review

Lucas doesn’t have the social skills to discuss it, either. When Tom’s new girlfriend Anna (Libe Barer), trauma dumps and tells him that she hasn’t seen her father for 15 years, Lucas responds, “Hmm, my parents are dead.” It’s blunt delivery, a scene that’s awkward at the moment, where the scene lingers a beat too long in editing as Lucas’ eyes dart around, but this is the moment in Slapface that he has zero social capacity to discuss such things.

What’s stranger, still, is the relationship between Anna and them. At the beginning of the film, Tom meets her at a bar for literally three minutes, and then she’s living at their home for the entire first act. There are many moments that feel strange while watching the film, but Slapface is very much a film about reflection: Showing a dynamic where total stranger Anna takes on a motherly dynamic, as she attempts more compassionate parenting in 48 hours than Tom has tried in the months since their parents have passed.

slapface movie review

When Lucas comes home and his hands are covered in dog’s blood; Tom isn’t concerned in the slightest while Anna makes the effort to pry. Even Lucas’ assertion of basically, “Don’t worry, it’s only dog’s blood,” is off putting.

All Lucas would do is say, “We’re going to play Slapface.” That line seems funny, but let me remind you, the way it’s played is completely serious. That’s good for the message; though the content feels too heavy. As well, these are not characters that are notably likable – Tom a drunk; and Lucas consistently putting himself into horrible situations. There’s an emotional detachment to the story because of that, where its sentiment may have hit harder overall had we liked these characters.

slapface movie review

Stalkers and Structure

One thing I’ll note about the structure is that it really sets itself apart from anything else, where it’s almost a monster feature (the makeup for the witch is fine, as we mostly see her gigantic features in low-lighting), meets Fatal Attraction.

Soon, the witch is jealous of anything with a heartbeat; and Lucas has to be the one to tell her, “Witch, I’m just not that into you.” It’s fascinating how much it seems to take on this stalker structure – the witch resorting to Breaking and Entering while Lucas isn’t home. The only thing missing is her sitting down at a chair and switching a lamp on and off.

slapface movie review

Perhaps a more apt comparison is to Andy Muschietti’s Mama, albeit this is a more bizarre version than that film, and at least Mama hit most of its emotional beats. I also feel like Kip had a strong idea for the film but wasn’t able to construct a compelling enough storyline. It feels repetitive, with Lucas meeting the witch and putting himself in a terrible situation, the witch putting him in a more terrible situation, and then throw in a bit of Slapface for good measure. A stronger plot would have benefited the film; as well as a deeper exploration of its characters, as it really only seems to scratch the surface.

I do have to admit the most impressive aspect of the film is its realism. The film doesn’t shy away from real-life consequences, and with the heavy material, the team behind the film are able to take somewhat surprising risks. Even if the film doesn’t completely work on every level, it is surely bold.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

NEXT: SON Movie Review: A Horror Thriller That Just Doesn’t Work

slapface movie poster

About Slapface

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. With his only “friends” being a group of female bullies, he keeps to himself most of the time. But, after a strange encounter with an inhuman monster, Lucas begins to withdraw from others. When the two reach a tentative trust, a bizarre friendship is born, and Lucas is swept up in a series of primal adventures.

Slapface is now available on Shudder.