The Leech (CFF) Drains Life from Allegorical Story Through Challenging Comedy
Title: The Leech
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Eric Pennycoff
Writer: Eric Pennycoff
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Starring: Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Taylor Zaudtke
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival in 2022.
Leading a waning congregation, Father David (Graham Skipper) is met with a peculiar test of faith when he spots Terry (Jeremy Gardner) sleeping in the pews of his church after mass. Grating as he is, Terry’s down-on-his-luck story ingratiates Father David enough to open his own home to him after an unsuccessful car ride to his girlfriend Lexi’s (Taylor Zaudtke) place leaves him without a place to sleep. Eventually, Lexi also finds her way to Father David’s home once she faces eviction, but not after she supposedly goes to confession, spilling the secret of an unplanned pregnancy. Things bubble over as the group tries to coexist together. Is this some kind of off brand cabin fever or is something more supernatural afoot?
The Leech serves up a Christmas parable with strong characters, stronger performances, and grating humor.
Terry, Lexi, and Father David might be some of the most grating characters to be unleashed this year. Their characterization is a great strength for The Leech and makes the film a challenging watch. In the beginning, it is quite clear that Terry is content to mooch off of others while indulging in his host’s attempts to bring him to see the light. Lexi is more independent than her beaux but exudes the same obliviousness and crudeness that puts off others.
As the film progresses, Father David unfurls before the audience to show his true colors. At first presenting as benign and holier than thou, his demeanor sours revealing a bitter man with plenty of secrets and righteous fury. By the end, the titular leech the film offers up gets more ambiguous as each of these characters take from others in a parasitic manner. Most obviously, Terry and Lexi use Father David’s initial kindness as a get out of jail free card to avoid homelessness. Father David, however, uses them as an effort to be a savior despite his past actions. In fact, his indiscretions that are hinted at throughout the film are even more insidious knowing that they are borne from his place of power.
It becomes clear as it edges further on that the events of The Leech mimic the build up of the birth of Christ. Terry and Lexi are stand ins for Joseph and Mary, while David represents those who would want to turn them away. A man of God’s faith is tested in what he sees as the worst of humanity, despite what his self-aggrandizing social media posts suggest. The Leech juxtaposes what some people of faith tend to think of others now might have translated to in the Bible had Jesus been born in 2020 rather than in Biblical times.
The entire cast does a great job, but Jeremy Gardner is a standout as the bum character without a sense of inhibition. Gardner really “goes for it” the entirety of the film’s runtime. Brash and boisterous, Gardner toes the line between slurring his words and slipping in something out of left field. His eyes twinkle and his physicality borders on the bumbling which is perfect for the buffoonery of Terry. Graham Skipper gives an impressive performance as well. Father David’s uptight façade is deconstructed over the 82-minute runtime with the appropriate emotional beats in expression and vocal inflection. Skipper is constantly meeting the insanity facing his character with the right amount of unsettled guard and, later, unhinged ferocity.
The Leech starts out rather plain cinematically. As it crescendos to its finale, the filmmaking gets looser and wilder. Cameras fade in and out and zoom side to side. The lighting gets brighter, the colors more vivid. It is almost as if the film comes alive the further the characters slide into depravity, aiding in the slow-burn delivery of its inevitable conclusion. Beyond everything else, The Leech is a well-filmed and strongly directed feature with incredible talent on screen.
The Leech distinctly leans into secondhand embarrassment humor, which is a personal turn off. Some may find this fascinating or a reason to check out, but for this reviewer it makes it painful. Though this is no fault of the filmmakers as this is exactly how they intend to make it. Thankfully, throughout the film there are at least a few jokes that will come out of nowhere and attack you with their intensity.
Personally, The Leech is a difficult film to like, as it contains many aspects that are averse to my own taste. Between specific character archetypes, a distinct sense of humor, and a tonally wild third act, it is an indie film that will appeal to niche groups. That being said, the story it tells, one of a man’s faith tested and tarnished, is timeless and the themes it intertwines to tell this tale are exceptionally well-written. The characters and their respective performances also deserve much praise. Would I watch it again or recommend it to everyone? Probably not. The Leech does deserve a watch if you want something provocative and aren’t afraid to test your faith in off-the-wall horror comedies this Christmas.
Overall Score? 5.5/10