Writer / director Jeremiah Kipp‘s anti-bullying thriller “Slapface” is a film that’s full of interesting ideas. The story tackles dark themes like grief, abuse, and childhood trauma, wrapping them all into a horror movie. Even with a small budget, the storytelling is effective and the production qualities are good (for the most part), all of which warrant overlooking the rougher aspects of the film like the unsteady editing and the amateurish performances.
Lucas (August Maturo) is a loner. He’s relentlessly bullied by his classmates as well as his older brother, Tom (Mike Manning). After the death of their mother, the pair are getting by the best they can. Tom is in charge of the household and has assumed some parental duties, especially when it comes to discipline. When he feels his younger brother has misbehaved, they play a game called slapface, where Tom repeatedly hits Lucas. One day while playing alone in the woods, the younger boy befriends a monstrous witch who will stop at nothing to protect her only companion — including murder.
Kipp uses a menacing supernatural monster as a metaphor for trauma and abuse, and expresses the idea of violence as a learned behavior. The witch engages in extreme violence to protect Lucas, but also to show him that she cares deeply for him. It’s a creepy story with a lot of thematic depth, tackling tough issues like grief, neglect, and the mistreatment of those most vulnerable. In other words, this isn’t your typical evil witch story.
The ideas of good and evil presented here are complicated, and the story is open to interpretation. Lucas is mentally and emotionally unstable with a raging temper and is prone to violent outbursts. At some point in the story, I was asking myself “who is the real monster here?” It’s left up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. Two weeks later, I still haven’t decided if I believe the witch is real or just a manifestation of the boy’s psyche.
The unresolved ending is a bit frustrating, but “Slapface” is worth your time. It’s an interesting, thought-provoking film that isn’t shy about exploring tough subject matter and presenting it in a way that’s different, creative, and very effective.