The Leech (2022)

Director: Eric Pennycoff

Running Time: 82 Minutes

Starring: Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner, Taylor Zaudtke, Rigo Garay

As the holiday season approaches, the devout Father David (Graham Skipper) speaks to his dwindling congregation about the need to always be a Good Samaritan. He welcomes into his house a struggling homeless couple, although this act of kindness becomes a test of faith when the sanctity of David's home becomes jeopardized.

After delivering Sadistic Intentions, an excellent two-hander which blended heavy metal music with an unconventional romance, writer/director Eric Pennycoff brings alive another tense and contained tale. This one balances the holiday-set comedy of a mismatched grouping with the intensity of a religious figure's growing frustrations with the world. The result resembles the twisted offspring of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and First Reformed.

Graham Skipper excellently portrays the lead role, spreading God's word while trying to practice what he preaches. In the front room hangs an oversized painting of his stone-faced mother, acting as a domineering reminder that he must stay on the straight and narrow. A revealing game of Never Have I Ever offers glimpses into the life David's trying to move past, although his guests actions finds him tested, as increasingly hostile social media posts glimpses at his unraveling.

A source of this bad temper is Terry, whose welcoming exterior masks something sinister lurking beneath. Alongside delivering humorous lines with such relish, Jeremy Gardner conveys a seemingly agreeable nature which masks his opportunistic attempts to see what angle will most benefit him. This is best shown in how receptive he becomes to David's teachings, only to take the most extreme lessons from them. Acting opposite him is Taylor Zaudtke, a gem as Terry's partner looking for a job while caught in a volatile relationship with a man she dislikes.

Becoming dissatisfied with the home atmosphere, David becomes more authoritative and forces his own will upon the couple, right down to what they wear. All pretenses are dropped in his anger, as he burns their sex toys, hurls bitter insults, and becomes more drunk. Unsettling dream sequences showcase how lost the priest has become, as things bubble up with great intensity before exploding in a rage of violence, leaving all underlying menace on the surface.

What's key to this film is the question about who the real leech is. Is it the homeless couple who've taken advantage of a man's good will upon intruding on his home, or the Catholic priest who would rather lock a woman into a sinister relationship than help her regarding an abortion? It sticks in the mind long after the credits have rolled, offering a darker alternative to the regularly repeated festive fare.

The Leech made its International Premiere at Frightfest 2022