Grimmfest: Slapface (2021)

Jeremiah Kipp

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Starring: August Maturo, Mike Manning, Libe Barer, Mirabelle Lee, Lukas Hassel, Dan Hedaya

Expanding on his short film of the same name, writer/director Jeremiah Kipp opens this feature in striking fashion as Lucas (August Maturo) and his older brother Tom (Mike Manning) play the titular game. Consisting of slapping each others faces pretty hard, it's an unhealthy outlet for the brothers' frustrations and sets up their perilous situation rather well.

Following the death of his mother, Lucas has been acting out in troublesome ways which leaves locals expecting the worst. Grappling with the loss, he creates a relationship with an inhuman witch that leaves carnage in their wake. This toxic pairing brings forth an interesting fable about brothers unhealthily dealing with their inner hurt.

Shared trauma has left them with PTSD, yet they vent in destructive ways due to a refusal to communicate. While Lucas gets in trouble with law enforcement, Tom bottles everything up and drowns his sorrows in booze until they spill out in explosive ways. They worry about their bond being severed and losing their last remaining family, yet don't do much to help matters. Maturo and Manning phenomenally capture this inner turmoil, as their performances makes for emotional viewing.

Outside of his brother, Lucas spends time with a trio of bullies around his age because he's infatuated with Moriah (Mirabelle Lee). Whatever her feelings, she routinely dismisses him to keep up appearances with her troublesome friends. Also part of the boys lives is Anna (Libe Barer), Tom's well-meaning girlfriend who grows increasingly concerned about Lucas' welfare. What could've falling into outdated tropes regarding the opposite sex instead becomes a tragic point, as happiness remains out of the brothers reach due to their own self-destructive actions.

When it comes to the horror elements, they're keyed into the silent monster which stalks Lucas. While it's look can be distracting and the scares could be more plentiful, Lukas Hassel's performance elevates the creature into an unsettling symbol of pent-up pain. This is where the feature works best, when it's about bullying and the fear of voicing ones feelings. This emotional core will leave viewers feeling gut-punched by Kipp's work.

Slapface previously played at Grimmfest