Writer/Director: Eric England
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice Macdonald, Katie Stegeman, Matt Mercer
Rating: 4 out of 5 bloody, peeling fingernails. This clever and sensible indie horror film is filled with giddy gross-out body horror that satisfies on a visual, visceral level. But I couldn’t help but see beyond the grotesqueness; the indie sensibilities that run through the genre veins of this film gave it an eerie and effective sense of intimacy and realism, elevating it for me into something even more meaningful and truly terrifying– the perhaps not so plain and simple but still highly believable downward spiral of an average twenty-something.
Samantha, our main character is the lesbian twenty-something in question. She is on the brink of falling apart already, dealing with her distant and cold girlfriend Nikki, her overbearing but equally cold mother with whom she must temporarily live, a male admirer in whom she is not interested, a job as a waitress which she can’t afford to lose, a slowly revealed past of drug abuse and drinking, and an uncertain future with her flowers and plants with which she hopes to be accepted into a competition.
All of this is foregrounded at a party where her friend Alice gets her drunk, and a mysterious man named BJ (played to creepy perfection by You’re Next screenwriter Simon Barrett) pushes her the rest of the way over the proverbial edge of intoxication by having sex with her in a car. The scene plays out like a combination rape/contamination scene, and England keeps us on the outside, distanced from what we already know is the catalyst for everything to follow. Even his framing of Barrett as BJ is perfect– blurry and off-center, giving us a sense of unease that is unrelenting.
The film’s opening sequence is also worth noting in this way, but for fear of spoiling the movie, I won’t divulge what it is. But when you see it, you will already feel your skin start to crawl in nauseating anticipation, a sensation that will no doubt stay with you with every appearance of a new symptom or awkward scenario these symptoms lead to. One of my favorite things about this film was England’s consistent but always careful ability to show us just enough but not too much; this opening shot in particular is framed in such a specific and closed in way, that we’re only left to speculate and guess what it even was that we just saw.
Anyway, from the time Samantha opens her eyes to find herself in her own bed without remembering a thing, matters just get worse, the “disease” she is left with destroying her already tenuous personal relationships, her ability to work and any hopes of succeeding in the competition– the flowers she brings are decaying like her teeth at that point in her trajectory, as if to match their master in this way. And these moments were more nerve wracking to me personally than the physical changes which wrought them. Samantha is not always easy to like but I was nervous for her all the same.
I didn’t see the film as a cautionary tale about sex either but rather a perfect example of horror taking unseen fears and anxieties and turning them into something physical and disgusting in order to manifest and reflect upon them: the sort of conscious decomposition of a body whose stresses include a poor decision about sex, calling into question for her (and the audience) all the other stresses and poor decisions she could possibly have to deal with at her age and in her current situation overall.
By the end, I felt just as alone as she did, her actions often shocking me more than her disintegrating appearance. Now, while I had a theory all along of what it was that she had contracted, it didn’t really matter: it wasn’t proven or disproved, mind you, but I realized through the abrupt ending, as frustrated and exhausted as I was by it, that we were not meant to have an explanation.
The other random things I loved about the movie were the astounding and genuinely unique makeup effects and the use of “Day” inter-titles. I think this film succeeds as a horror film that speaks to an age group’s apprehensions in a very specific way, using perhaps some tropes we’ve seen before (like teeth pulling and maggots) but to still creepy and potentially significant ends (the maggots in particular were important to my “theory” and never fail to be horrifying on a really base level anyway).
I think if one were to see this film and ignore the human dimension and merely focus on the shocks and scares, they’d be satisfied on a visual level still like I said but I personally couldn’t ignore the humanity in the film, the struggles that one could probably see in any indie movie minus the creepiness.
But I loved the way these sensibilities merged together in this film, enhancing one another and making for a simultaneously disgusting and distressing story that somehow also managed to maintain an albeit dark and cynical sense of humor through the dialogue and the performances themselves. So maybe I am reading more into it than others would or even should but I would argue that I felt more invested and therefore more scared as a result of this reading.
I say definitely rent this movie on iTunes of VOD or see it on a bigger screen if you’re anywhere near one playing it (I know the IFC theater in Manhattan is playing it now so any fellow native New Yorkers should make their way over there if they can).