Films based on family dysfunction range from the realistic such as Ordinary People to insane extremes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Within these opposites and everything in between, there is one thing that filters through these family structures. That thing would be nature versus nurture: Is an individual’s personality shaped by their environment or how their parental figures raised them?
Slapface, a new cinematic effort produced by Chhibber Mann Productions and soon to be distributed via Shudder, gives us a combination of the nature and nurture argument that brings about terrifying results.
The film transports us to the tiny town of Fishkill, New York where Lucas (August Maturo) and his brother/guardian Tom (Mike Manning) reside in a rundown house where their only neighbors are the abundance of trees in a seemingly endless amount of woods. Due to their parents’ demise because of an automobile accident, Tom is saddled with the responsibility of parenting Lucas who becomes the town’s problem child. As punishment for Lucas’ misbehavior, Tom and Lucas engage in a sadistic ordeal entitled “slapface” where uneven punishment is dished out between the two brothers.
Lucas, lonely and full of contempt with Tom’s new girlfriend Anna (Libe Barer), escapes into the woods. Fulfilling a dare from his love interest Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) coupled with the local bullies Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio ), Lucas enters into an old abandoned building called The Fishkill Wakefield House where he confronts and later befriends the Virago Witch (Lukas Hassel), a mythic figure that haunts the town. As the abuse escalates by Tom and the bullies, Lucas strengthens his bond with the Witch in a desperate need for any type of endearment which culminates in terrifying results.
Scribed and helmed by Jeremiah Kipp, Slapface plays with various levels of dysfunction throughout the film. The trauma, constant grief, and horrendous loss hangs about the house and descends upon Lucas and Tom. The by-product of these mental anguishes manifests themselves into ugly scenes of mental and physical abuse. Not possessing the education or the resources to cope with their parents’ demise, their rage and vulnerability go unchecked and, in Lucas’ case, manifests into a monster that feeds on Lucas’ need for love and affection.
The performances within this film are excellent. August Maturo provides a powerful and emotional presence as Lucas as he expertly exudes his character’s desperate need for love and attention which turns into a troubling circumstance. Mike Manning is terrific as Tom as his character tries to balance being father, mother, and brother to Lucas along with his menacing presence as his anger and grief shoots out into unsettling scenes of mental and physical abuse towards the people he loves. Libe Barer is very good as Tom’s girlfriend and potential buffer Anna who attempts to understand the issues between the two brothers. Mirabelle Lee and the D’Ambrosio twins, Bianca and Chiara are terrific as the town bullies who terrorize Lucas at every opportunity.
This can be a rough watch, especially for individuals whose experiences mirror this movie. Thankfully there is an excellent explanatory epilogue as the film closes. Slapface is an unsettling but powerful tale of utilizing myth that manifests in a forest of a family’s dysfunction.
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