“Where do monsters come from?”
When you consider what the horror genre intends, it’s simply to scare and invoke fear into viewers. This is no easy feat in today’s society. I’ve said before that horror doesn’t necessarily need reimagining of plot lines that we’ve already seen. We need new things to be afraid of. So, where else to look than within the society that desensitized us. Shedding light on what’s scary in real life is true horror.
I had the privilege of watching an advance screening of Shudder’s new premiere film Slapface starring talented young actors August Maturo and Mirabelle Lee. The film also stars Mike Manning and Libe Barer. Slapface intertwines true-life horror with the supernatural.
Brothers Lucas (Maturo) and Tom (Manning) struggle to navigate their grief after the death of their mother leaves them alone. Tom is entrusted to be Lucas’ guardian. But, as time passes, Lucas and Tom’s relationship becomes more of an abusive father-son relationship instead of two brothers taking care of each other. Lucas forms an unlikely and treacherous friendship with the reputed evil witch in the woods. The two become co-dependent, and Lucas and Tom struggle to keep each other safe when the bloodshed begins.
Before watching Slapface, I thought this was a Tik Tok challenge shared amongst siblings or friends. It turns out in this movie, playing slap face is an older sibling’s way of sadistically disciplining the brother left in his care. The entire film is a trigger warning, using the supernatural and trauma to unsettle viewers. I certainly was. The film is uncomfortable to watch at times due to violent bullying, betrayal, and abuse. This is not a statement to deter viewers from watching, as the film creatively highlights real-life horror. When society, the entire system fails families from particular backgrounds, it’s the children that suffer from abandonment, abuse, and poverty. Try to picture how vivid fear was when you were a child. Lucas’ grief, anger, pain, and a lifetime of struggle set him up to fall into the same cycle of abuse. Lucas doesn’t grasp what it is to have a healthy relationship with anyone that is supposed to love him, so; it’s easy for him to believe love and violence go hand in hand. Every other character Lucas is loyal to hurts him physically and emotionally – his best friend Moriah (Lee) can’t fully embrace her friendship with him – so Lucasonly understands wrongdoing when his witch friend sheds blood. Rather brutally, I may add.
Lucas’ story reminds me of a book I read in 2021 called Take Your Turn Teddy by Haley Newlin. Similarly, after witnessing his father savagely harm his mother, Teddy befriends a dark entity. The unspoken truth between Lucas and Teddy’s stories represents so many untold stories of how kids can truly become monsters based on the trauma they’ve experienced. At first, I believed the rumored Virago Witch was a manifestation of Lucas’ loneliness. It’s ten feet tall and has the silhouette features of the retro bestile witch that we all know so well. The witch doesn’t hesitate to harm anyone who crosses its path but seems to love and want to protect Lucas. It’s not clear what draws them together but, it’s endearing until the witch can’t protect Lucas from itself and the consequences from the way it defends Lucas. But, despite all the bloodshed that follows Lucas’s and the witch’s adventures, it’s the witch that lightens up the film’s troublesome plot.
Leave it Shudder to debut new sub-genres of horror. While the issues of abuse, neglect, bullying, and the practical effects in Slapface aren’t new to horror stories, it’s still quite a unique spin on how innocent kids can be turned into monsters. Slapface is a solid movie that I was delighted with. The storytelling is fluid, fun, and fucked up. I had to applaud the acting from the kids and the witch. So, be sure to peep Slapface if you’re feeling like watching a witch in the woods horror film. Also, be sure to listen if there’s a kid in your life acting out. They may have a horror story to tell you.