Salem Horror Fest: The Weird Kidz (2023)

Director: Zach Passero

Running Time: 80 Minutes

Starring: Tess Passero, Ellar Coltrane, Sydney Wharton, Brian Ceely, Glenn Bolton, Angela Bettis, Sean Bridgers

On the verge of adolescence, a trio of friends find themselves faced with their future. Mel (Glenn Bolton) hopes to illustrate comic-books, Fatt (Brian Ceely) lives in the moment, while Dug (Tess Passero) is more interested in video games than girls. Along with pet dog, Grumbles, the boys are taken on a weekend camping trip by Dug's older brother, Wyatt (Ellar Coltrane), who also brings his girlfriend, Mary (Sydney Wharton).

While en-route to Jerusalem National Park, they are warned by local shop worker Duana (Angela Bettis) about the local legend of The Night Child. Across an adventure which includes stealing beer, urinating out of a moving vehicle, and a fireworks-related prank, it soon becomes apparent that there's something crawling around in the dark.

Writer/Director Zach Passero captures the feeling of a fun camping trip amidst an old-school 80's adventure. The boys want to enjoy their time while on the verge of leaving childhood, although a looming threat hangs over them courtesy of sinister occurrences which can cause the situation to become bloody. It's all in the name of that old favourite, "traditional values", two words which encapsulates how few surprises the story takes alongside lacking tries at humour.

Despite any clashes and insults shared between them, there's genuine love within the group that is wonderfully conveyed. The layered characterization allows characters like Wyatt and Mary to rise above tired tropes such as antagonistic sibling or adolescent object of desire. This is especially true of how the brothers feel like lost causes due to how their parents treat them, feelings exacerbated by their parents ignoring them due to their little sister having "promise". Despite being shunned by their family, the pair support each other throughout the difficult times.

Although some movements can look awkward, there's an expressiveness to the characters which is effectively conveyed through the distinctive animation which brings this tale alive. This is especially true when difficult situations are filtered through Dug's video-game expertise, which he uses to help overcome tough obstacles. While he may have failed the President's Fitness Test, he steps up when the situation requires it. Despite the fun the characters may have, Passero's film resembles The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the sense that those who survive are not okay. Whatever pretenses they try putting on, the group have been through a lifechanging experience and all is certainly not well.

The Weird Kidz made its Massachusetts Premiere at Salem Horror Fest