SLAPFACE Key Art | ©2022 Shudder

SLAPFACE Key Art | ©2022 Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: August Maturo, Mike Manning, Libe Barer, Mirabelle Lee, Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio, Lukas Hassel, Dan Hedaya
Writer: Jeremiah Kipp, based on his short film
Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Distributor: Shudder
Release Date: February 3, 2022

SLAPFACE is a horror film that has an actual monster, but it would fit the genre even without one.

Lucas (August Maturo) is a teen being raised by his older brother Tom (Mike Manning) after their parents’ death in a car accident. They live in a cabin in the woods, but although there are plenty of other fear-inspiring elements, the house isn’t one of them.

At the start, Tom says to Lucas, “You know why we have to do this, right?” The brothers then engage in ritual face-slapping – Tom smacks Lucas, Lucas smacks him back, each time harder. This is Tom’s way of enforcing discipline.

The opening credits for SLAPFACE have a background of news articles that hint at disturbing local events: children who are orphaned, missing, or murderous.

The town’s troubles are blamed on the local legend of the Virago Witch. Tom doesn’t take much notice of Lucas’s fascination with the story.

Then Lucas is bullied by mean-girl twins Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio). Their friend Moriah seems like she’d rather date Lucas than torment him, but she too is lonely, afraid of being rejected by the twins.

The upshot of all this is that Lucas accepts the girls’ dare to enter an abandoned building, where he encounters someone, or something.

SLAPFACE is a rare film that gets away with is-it-supernatural-or-is-it-mental-illness because writer/director Jeremiah Kipp (who previously made a short-film version of this) fills it with emotional realism. He also makes acutely good use of sound, with minor noises producing powerful results.

What’s heartbreaking is that we come to realize that everyone in SLAPFACE means well, even when their deeds are harmful. A combination of fury and the lack of ability to articulate the truth keeps making everything worse.

Maturo conveys a great deal with a look or a gesture. Manning makes Tom simultaneously loving and a jerk. Libe Barer is sympathetic as Tom’s new girlfriend Anna, and Lee has sweetness as the conflicted Moriah.

There are a few issues here, one of which is that much of SLAPFACE is underlit. We get that filmmaker Kipp is going for a certain mood here, but there are outdoor scenes that seem too dark for the exposure, and some indoor scenes where it’s hard to see altogether.

It would also be nice to have a closing credits reassurance that no animals were harmed for the film. While we don’t see any being struck on camera, there is at least one instance where what’s happened is questionable.

Still, SLAPFACE has a sense of genuine human pain and bewilderment that give impact to its ominous flourishes.

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