Slapface (2022) Slaps Traditional Creature Feature Tropes in the Face
First Non-Festival Release: February 3, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Writer: Jeremiah Kipp
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Starring: August Maturo, Mike Manning, Mirabelle Lee
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Tom (Mike Manning) has been taking care of his younger brother Lucas (August Maturo) since their parents died in an automobile accident. Lucas spends his time in the forest, either breaking into abandoned buildings or spending time with a group of female bullies, including his secret girlfriend Moriah (Mirabelle Lee). Tom’s latest girlfriend Anna (Libe Barer) expresses concern on how Lucas is left to his own devices during the day and questions Tom on his caregiving style. Meanwhile, Lucas is developing a relationship with a monster he found in one of the buildings. He may not understand how or why but this creature is willing to stand up for Lucas if he is unwilling to do it himself.
Watered down by its choppy narrative and poor pacing, Slapface is a middling monster family drama that lacks a punch.
What should be the heart of the film, the bond between two brothers picking up the pieces of a broken family, fails to capture the promise of its heartbreaking setup. Wavering performances from leads August Maturo and Mike Manning make it hard to stay invested in their characters. It’s most noticeable during the heavier scenes where they are forced to scream, cry, and release the very emotion we are expecting from their revelations. The connection between Tom and Lucas is sidestepped for the bullying subplot that doesn’t amount to anything revelatory. On their own, their characters feel shallow and contrived, but had there been more intentional development, they might have elevated the film beyond its middling end-product.
The film beats its metaphor over the head making it feel more like a lecture than a story. The film’s human villains, comically vicious Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio), have no depth beyond their desire for cruelty. Lucas seems to be in their warpath both unintentionally and intentionally due to his infatuation with Moriah. Of course, this doesn’t condone the actions of Lucas’s bullies, but it does feel odd that the narrative writes him to be so dependent on interactions with those he’d be better off avoiding. What transpires is typical as the befriended witch comes to Lucas’s defense in the most sensible manner. Hidden between the obvious beats of bullying is wrong are some truly meaningful statements on abuse and male emotions.
Abuse comes in many forms. Oftentimes when film and tv depict abuse it comes in the form of adults hitting children. Based on premise alone this obviously fits the bill in Slapface. It sinks a bit deeper here though. Tom cares about his brother and due to his young age and sudden responsibility in caring for him he is ill-equipped to raise Lucas properly. His attempts at parenting are misguided at best but he does seem like he’s trying. Unfortunately, his neglect of Lucas also shines through in his ignorance in many ways: ignorance to Lucas’s whereabouts or who he is with, leaving guns insecure in the home, relying on him for transportation home, etc. Lucas has to navigate being a child and adult caring for himself and his brother too.
The concept of the Slapface game seems ridiculous at first but makes more sense when you think about it. Lucas and Tom lost both of their parents in a traumatic incident and are now left to piece back their life together. They refuse to talk about it and shut down when the other tries to process. Instead, they build trust and share frustration in a game where they hit each other. By releasing their emotion through physical violence, they avoid the necessary conversation about actually listening to each other. It perpetuates a cycle of abuse that ends in more destruction than they can contain. Had the focus shifted more towards these themes than the pedestrian take on bullying it likely would have been more impactful.
Slapface is what happens when the writing process leaves you too many interesting ideas and timely themes and not enough pages in the script to contain them. Characters are left without proper development to watch the relationship of the central brothers unravel at the slightest impression of pressure. What could have been an interesting character-driven story ends up peddling its themes first before crafting a compelling narrative that can be successful on its own. Uneven pacing and shoddy writing fight against a solid dark tone and an admittedly uncanny creature design. Not as much a punch to the stomach as it is a slap in the face, this creature feature won’t knock the wind out of you.
Overall Score? 5/10