Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Screenplay: Jeremiah Kipp
Review: RJ Bland
Although he has a couple of feature-length films in the pipeline, Jeremiah Kipp is one of the most prolific and innovative short-film makers around right now. A glance at IMDB reveals that he has been involved with a whole host of projects over the last six or seven years – as well as a glut of movies that are in pre-production or have just completed. He's a busy man. Anyone that has seen his previous work will know that he likes to operate in that grey area between drama, horror and fantasy. Previous works such as The Days God Slept, Painkiller and The Minions are all prime examples of his idiosyncratic and almost dreamlike approach. Films that usually leave you thinking on them for a little while afterwards.
Slapface is one of Kipp's latest additions to his ever expanding portfolio. It's also a bit of a passion project, with Kipp having wanted to make a monster movie for a number of years. Partly funded on Indiegogo, the movie tells the story of a young boy who, having lost his mother, creates an imaginary friend. However, this isn't your standard imaginary friend – he's a hulking hairy monster. It's fine, it's fine. There's nothing to worry about – he exists only in the kids imagination. Or does he...?
Kipp's film's may all differ in their individual identities and styles yet there remains one constant throughout all of his shorts – the production values are always top-notch, and Slapface is no different.
Once again, offbeat and outsider concepts and ideas are fused with accomplished and methodical direction to create something quite beguiling. This may be an independent short-film but it has the feel of (and potential for) a million-dollar full-length feature. Kipp (and cinematographer Dominick Sivilli) use a muted palette here. He shoots in fading light and the result is a beautiful, calming washed out effect. This is a sombre story, one of sadness – and the aesthetics reflect that – but this is also a story of impending danger. The almost passive camerawork lulls you into a false sense of security but the fantastic score leaves us in no doubt that there could be a threat lurking around any corner. In fact, the subdued look and the nervy violin pieces are almost reminiscent of 'The Witch' (Robbert Eggers). The sense of ominous threat is tangible.
Although the horror elements of Slapface grab the attention, it's the simmering undercurrent of emotion that underpins the story. This is a tale of loss and love and anger and regret – and also one of death. There is also a tangible sense of emptiness and decay in the air too. The trees are bare, the leaves are dead on the ground, the light is fading, the rail-way track is abandoned and disused. There's a lot going on here and although we only catch a glimpse into the lives of this family, it feels as if there is a rich, complex but ultimately dark history waiting to be uncovered. Imagine 'A Monster Calls' and add a big dollop of menace. That's the kind of thing we're looking at here.
We're also treated to some fine acting performances too. Slapface is an isolated, sparse experience and the limited cast (there are only three characters) reflects this. Joshua Kaufman is great as the anguished youngster trying to get over the loss of his mother. That level of inner grief and sorrow is difficult to portray without it being overbearing but he gets it just right. Nick Gregory brings an unsettling level of menace to his role as the uncompromisingly hard father and Lukas Hassel (a regular Kipp collaborator) is unrecognisable but fantastic as the monster of the piece. Kipp carefully manages proceedings so we never really get a clear or prolonged look at the beast. We catch glimpses here and there and he is quite often kept at the edge of the frame or in shadow. The practical effects team also deserve praise for creating an original and realistic looking monster that wouldn't look out of place in a Hollywood production.
The ending may frustrate those looking for a clean cut resolution, but it's apparent early on that this is not going to be a self-contained three act story distilled into a ten minute segment. This feels more like the beginning of a story. Sure there are unanswered questions at the end (we won't go into those as it may spoil it) But the promise and potential of something a bigger story makes this frustration kind of moot. Whether we end up getting a chance to explore this world and these characters further remains to be seen (a feature length version has already been penned I believe). But ultimately, what's most important is that we leave it wanting more. Fingers crossed, we get it.