Rating: 3 out of 5.

Slapface, a feature-length adaptation of writer/director Jeremiah Kipp’s same-titled short film, provides ample metaphorical subtext about grieving, loss, and bullying. It is part horror monster movie, part grief drama; think Amblin charm meets the monster emotionality of 2016’s A Monster Calls. August Maturo, who I had previously seen as the lead in this year’s inspirational drama Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog, is revelatory in a way I was not expecting. One can feel the aching sorrow in his performance.

It all starts with a simple (and appalling) game of Slapface—Lucas (Maturo) and his much older brother Tom (Mike Manning) take turns violently slapping each other across the face. Lucas lives with his brother in a dumpy home, but spends most of his time in the woods. He has no friends, unless you count the group of female bullies that constantly make his life a living hell. Both brothers are mourning the loss of their mother in very different ways. Lucas buries her photo in the woods, cuts his hand, sprinkles blood on it, and shortly after, he begins to see a strange monster. Tom’s girlfriend (Libe Barer) seems to care more about Lucas and his well-being than Tom does. The sheriff (Dan Hedaya) knows something is off with the child as well, but no one cares more for Lucas than his strange new “friend.”

The monster design for this creature is creepy and almost skeletal—the ghoul from Creepshow immediately sprung to mind as one of the various inspirations. As the monster begins killing those they view as roadblocks for Lucas, actor August Maturo does a terrific job playing opposite it, as both conflicted and frantic. The carnage is violent (an unfortunate dog death must be noted here as a trigger warning for those who cannot stomach animal violence), and fits the metaphor of anger through grief. A scene towards the end that feels directly lifted from the conclusion of Halloween 5 was one of my favorites in the film.

While Slapface may not be overly original, it is rare to see indie horror with such rich ideas on its mind. The acting performances and creature design are impeccable—both of these aspects make me think Jeremiah Kipp will quickly become a hot name in the horror genre. If your flavor of terror comes in the form of intellectually stimulating drama meets creature feature excellence, Slapface may be the single most satisfying slap to the cheek you have ever encountered.

Slapface screened at the 2021 Arrow Video FrightFest, and was picked up by Shudder for distribution in 2022!

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