Middling Horror Comedy Goes Stag (PANIC) to Bachelorette Party in the Woods
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Alexandra Spieth
Writer: Alexandra Spieth
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Starring: Mary Glen Fredrick, Elizabeth Ramos, Liana Hunt
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
Friends drift apart. It's a natural part of life. Many people will come in and out of it for various reasons. Sometimes they go unnoticed and other times it hurts like hell.
Jenny (Mary Glen Fredrick) finds herself scrolling through Instagram when she notices an engagement announcement from her former best friend, Mandy (Elizabeth Ramos). After some debate and not-so-ethical tactics, Jenny reaches out to re-connect. Despite an awkward re-introduction, the pair fall into a rhythm and Mandy finds herself asking Jenny to join her on her bachelorette party that weekend where, unbeknownst to either friend, things are about to get bloody.
Well-intentioned backwoods horror comedy Stag ekes out a few laughs and chills despite its uneven script and performances.
A rough opening act doesn’t set Stag up for success as it leans into cringe comedy and situational humor that largely doesn’t land. Awkwardness abounds in nearly every interaction between Jenny and those around her. While embarrassment is a relatable emotion and there are plenty of people that struggle with social interactions, Jenny’s schtick tires quickly. Once Jenny’s awareness of herself is eclipsed by her anxiety that something bad is happening, Stag corrects course into leaning into Jenny’s more grounded traits.
Somewhere in the middle Stag truly finds its footing, blending the everyday discomforts of being somewhere you aren’t fully wanted with the horrors of finding out it’s much worse than that. Jenny has wrestled with the guilt of her actions as a teenager for years, which has manifested itself into her life being largely unremarkable. From reaching out to Mandy to reconnect to voicing her concerns at the bachelorette party despite all signs pointing to her jealousy, Jenny finds herself in plenty of relatable scenarios where she pushes through her discomfort for a loved one.
These moments are scary twofold. One, because the audience knows Jenny is in a horror movie and bad things will happen. Two, because most people have been in a situation where they cannot quite place it, but something doesn’t feel right. When they are eventually vindicated for their gut feelings being right, regardless of whether their words were listened to, it’s not a fully satisfying feeling. That terror, that discomfort, that uncertainty is still present and does damage. And it especially hurts for the person that fails to heed that warning if a pair does diverge in thought.
This message is powerful when paired with the reality of the history between Mandy and Jenny. Jenny is a flawed woman, but part of the fun in her journey is watching her go through the ringer in making amends for her past mistakes. The disbelief and judgment that Jenny goes through during this weekend, mirrors a similar experience that Mandy had when Jenny didn’t believe she was raped. The irony isn’t lost on Jenny, as part of her intentions were to use this weekend to make amends for how she treated Mandy back then. Her lesson rings true for herself and serves as a nice reminder for the audience as well.
Some low production values aside, the real enemy of Stag is its uneven performances.
Mary Glen Fredrick gives her all as the socially inept yet ultimately caring Jenny but her portrayal feels forced, especially in the beginning. Writer director Alexandra Spieth’s decision to frontload much of Jenny’s deadpan humor and inattention to social cues makes it harder to take the rest of the film seriously. It results in Fredrick looking lost before she finally finds her footing halfway through second act. Stag changes dramatically when Jenny starts tripping, and Fredrick’s performance is the aspect that improves the most. Lockstep within the tone shift, Jenny feels more in-line with the tone of the film than when she is introduced. This difference indicates that Fredrick’s first act performance results more from the script than her talent.
Stag struggles to find itself during its 92-minute runtime despite its attempts to court viewers with quirky humor. A plodding first act and questionable characterization take the audience out of its rather simply story. Stag shines in its delivery of its message and a few tense scenes in the end. It’s hard to say that is enough to save the movie from its generic setup and payoff. Fans of cringe humor and horror comedies may find enough to take the trip but others may find themselves lost in the woods of it all.
Overall Score? 5/10