THE FACELESS MAN movie poster | ©2020 Freedom Cinema:

THE FACELESS MAN movie poster | ©2020 Freedom Cinema:

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Sophie Thurling, Pittaway, Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Facciolo, Martin Astifo, Lorin Kauffeld, Sunny S. Walia, Andy McPhee, Roger Ward, Brendan Bacon, Albert Goikhman, Daniel Reader
Writer: James Di Martino
Director: James Di Martino
Distributor: Freedom Cinema
Release Date: August 28, 2020

 THE FACELESS MAN keeps us guessing as to what it actually is for a good while. Will it turn out to be a movie about gangsters getting revenge on a bunch of clueless twentysomethings, a WOLF CREEK-style slaughter, or supernatural horror? Is Emily (Sophie Thurling) being stalked by a terrifying entity, or just having a terrible reaction to chemo drugs?

We meet Emily as a young Australian woman undergoing chemotherapy at a hospital. Her politician father (Brendan Bacon) wants to use her as a publicity prop. Emily tells him off, and then has what is either an early encounter with the Faceless Man, or the start of a series of bad hallucinations.

Three years later, Emily is seemingly in remission. At least, her hair has grown back and her color has returned – but she’s secretly vomiting blood and taking medication. Her friend Nina (Lorin Kauffeld) has arranged for a weekend at a house in the country with four male friends: Kyle (Lucas Pittaway), who pines for Emily; opinionated Chad (Sunny S. Walia); Brad (Daniel Facciolo), who expresses guarded admiration for an at-large serial killer; and Dave (Martin Astifo), who spends much of the film trying to roofie women.

This gives rise to a new question: why would Nina invite these guys anywhere? Is she oblivious to the obvious issues with Brad and Dave? Is there some hidden meaning here? No, it’s meant to be black comedy.

At the same time, we meet Russian-in-Australia crime boss Vikhtor (Albert Goikhman) and his loyal henchmen, who are trying to find a suitcase full of cocaine stolen by Nina et al’s pal Jimmy (Dave Beamish). Torturing Jimmy to death puts Vikhtor on the trail of our partyers.

Our group travels through the little town of Orange Lodge. Brad is so extraordinarily rude to a diner waitress that it’s amazing he’s allowed to leave the establishment in one piece. We meet Barry (Daniel Reader), one of the townsfolk responsible for keeping outsiders in line. We also soon meet the local de facto sheriff (Roger Ward) and the owner of the rental house (Andy McPhee). All of them are adamantly anti-drug, and suggest there will be severe consequences for violations of town policy. Our group, with the exception of Emily, promptly ignore the warnings. Emily is still either being stalked or imagining that she’s being stalked ever more closely by the Faceless Man.

Let us state at the top that THE FACELESS MAN won Best Picture, Best Director and four other awards (three for acting, one for Emma Rose’s sfx makeup) at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Clearly, the movie has people who think it’s terrific. This reviewer, alas, is not one of them.

The cast is fine, with Thurling and Ward standouts. Rose’s gore makeups are impressive and extensive, and the Faceless Man is designed to be effectively unnerving.

The trouble with THE FACELESS MAN isn’t its genre mashup. Director/writer James Di Martino is trying something of a new blend here, and theoretically, there’s no reason the various elements shouldn’t support each other.

However, the stuff with the criminals and the townies feels like Di Martino is going for a Quentin Tarantino vibe. We can appreciate the ambition, but the homage neither lives up to the real thing or gives us something fun and fresh.

The issue isn’t even the mixture of bloody violence and comedy. Filmmakers have been pulling this off since the ‘60s.

So what’s wrong? THE FACELESS MAN gives us nobody to root for. This works in film noir and even in some types of horror, but here we’re meant to laugh at everybody, but none of the characters are particularly funny. Some of the people are surprising in their awfulness, but that doesn’t equate to actual humor.

THE FACELESS MAN also wants us to laugh at rape, actual and threatened, and, well, no. That aspect could pollute a much better movie than this one.

There is a mid-end credits sequence that clears up one lingering mystery. A post-credits sequence is the perfect coda for all viewers, as those who have enjoyed the movie thus far get an added bit of meta commentary, and those who have become annoyed will get an extra burst of irritation.

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