Slapface is available to stream on Shudder.
If A Monster Calls (2016) demonstrated the healing power of an invisible monster in the life of an angry and lost young boy, then 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 turmoil found in his short as he asks what happens when fantasy replaces reality in the life of a troubled young teen? Here the journey of young Lucas (Maturo) is wrapped 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; Tom (Manning), the oldest, sits opposite the younger Lucas (Maturo), with nothing but silence surrounding them. Tom then asks if Lucas is ready to proceed, Lucas nods, and Tom slaps his face. Lucas then returns the slap, and the cycle continues, with each strike harder than the last. This brotherly ritual is called slapface, a physical manifestation of internal emotional pain. But why does this closed and secretive ritual exist?
Having lost their parents several years before, Lucas and Tom are alone in their home on the edge of the forest, their brotherly bond all that holds the household together. But, this bond is also fractured, problematic and rooted in repressed anger and grief. Tom spends his days working as a labourer and drinking while picking up women in local bars. While Lucas spends his days alone, wandering through the local woods attempting to forge friendships. His only real friend is Moriah (Lee), but she is also friends with two local twins who taunt and bully Lucas at every opportunity.
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Seeking escape and comfort, Lucas becomes obsessed with the legend of a witch who is said to haunt an abandoned building, and it’s not long before he meets the rag-covered monster as he explores the building following a dare. 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 Lucas and his brother’s past at a purposeful distance, feeding the audience small but important clues. For example, Tom’s drinking reflects their late father’s alcohol problem; as a result, 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. 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 problems at the heart of his relationship with Lucas.
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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 manages to tie together multiple thematic strands to create a compelling and haunting mix of drama and horror. Kipp is unafraid to tackle themes of abuse, isolation and anger through a horror lens, leading Slapface to transcend simple genre boundaries. The result is an outstanding social horror that explores the damage of unresolved trauma, isolation and bullying in adolescent development.