Slapface – A haunting and harrowing journey into childhood trauma

7 mins read


Frightfest presents Slapface arriving exclusively on Shudder from February 3rd 2022.


If A Monster Calls (2016) demonstrated the healing power of an invisible monster in the life of an angry and lost young boy, Jeremiah Kipp’s complex and harrowing Slapface shows the dangers. Based on his 2018 short film of the same name, Kipp’s feature-length movie builds on the themes of childhood trauma, folk horror and emotional repression found in his short as he asks, what happens when fantasy replaces reality in the life of a troubled young teen? Here Kipp wraps the journey of young Lucas in isolation, bullying, family breakdown, emotional turmoil and internal rage.


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Slapface opens with two brothers sitting alone in a rundown house on the edge of a forest. Here Tom (Mike Manning), the oldest, sits opposite the younger Lucas (August Maturo). With nothing but silence around them, Tom asks whether Lucas is ready and proceeds to slap his face. Lucas returns the slap, and the cycle continues; each strike harder than the last, as the brothers stare into each other’s eyes. This brotherly ritual is called slap face. Its purpose is the physical manifestation of internal emotional pain. However, the result is a lack of communication as both brothers turn to pain as a substitute for talking. But why does this ritual exist?

Having lost their parents several years before, Lucas and Tom are alone, their brotherly bond all that holds the household together. But, this bond is also fractured, problematic and rooted in repressed anger and grief. Here Tom spends his days working as a labourer and drinking. While at the same time entertaining the women he picks up in local bars. Meanwhile, Lucas spends his days alone, wandering the local woods while trying to forge friendships. However, his only real friend Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) is also friends with two local twins who taunt Lucas at every opportunity. Her inability to stand up for Lucas cutting at him like a razor-sharp knife as he suffers torment and ridicule.


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Seeking escape and comfort, Lucas becomes obsessed with a local legend of a witch who is rumoured to haunt an abandoned house. When the twins dare Lucas to enter the ruins of the property, he does so with a mix of bravery and apprehension. But, as Lucas encounters a mysterious rag covered figure, his fears dissipate as the entity stretches out the hand of friendship. Soon the witch becomes a friend and console as Lucas attempts to navigate his internal anger and fear. But, as the link between the witch and Lucas grows, the divide between reality and the supernatural becomes ever more tenuous. Here the creature enacts Lucas’s deepest and darkest desires while the boy silently screams for escape.

Kipp’s film holds the past of Lucas and his brother at a purposeful distance, feeding the audience small but important clues throughout. For example, Tom’s drinking reflects their late father, as Lucas keeps his distance. From the outset, it is clear that this is a damaged and fractured family unit rooted in an unspoken pain – the roots of which are still raw and sensitive to the touch.


SLAPFACE
August Maturo as Lucas in Slapface ©Shudder

However, Kipp offers us a glimmer of light when Tom brings home a new girlfriend, Anna (Libe Barer). Here the stifled emotions of the house are suddenly lifted by a woman who sees the pain and hurt surrounding both boys. However, Anna is held captive by Tom’s inability to accept the damage sitting at the heart of his relationship with Lucas. Here Tom’s biggest fear is the invasion of social services and the final break up of his family unit. This speaks directly to the fear of intervention surrounding many dysfunctional families as parents or guardians avoid public scrutiny of their homes due to fear of invasion.

In truth, Lucas and Tom are both held captive by their continuing emotional trauma – their game of slap face nothing more than an ongoing form of shared self-harm. Therefore, is it a wonder that Lucas finds comfort in the arms of a supernatural tale and mysterious yet murderous witch? Here, Kipp laces the horror at the heart of Slapface with a beautifully detailed discussion on adolescent mental health.


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With a screenplay rich in social horror and adolescent psychology, you may think Slapface would trip over its own complexity. But surprisingly, it doesn’t. Here Kipp holds multiple themes together in a compelling and haunting mix of drama and horror. Much of this success comes from the central performance of August Maturo, who portrays the hidden pain at the heart of his character through a single look. Here Maturo’s final scenes are nothing short of harrowing as years of pent up emotion finally find freedom.

Kipp is unafraid to tackle themes of abuse, isolation and anger through a lens of horror. Here Slapface transcends genre boundaries as it laces its folk horror with a far scarier premise; the reality that many of our monsters lie within. The result is an outstanding social horror that challenges the barriers of perceived masculinity that only further damage boy’s who suffer emotional trauma in silence.



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Summary

Kipp is unafraid to tackle themes of abuse, isolation and anger through a lens of horror. Here Slapface transcends genre boundaries as it laces its folk horror with a far scarier premise; the reality that many of our monsters lie within.

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