The title truly doesn’t lie.
It’s said that in cinema there are no new ideas. This criticism is often unfairly levied towards genres of film which are not necessarily deemed to be high art, horror flicks in particular. Still, in the face of this adversity and disapproval, we find passionate filmmakers creating fresh and exciting takes on typical genre conventions, all the while subverting expectations and deconstructing the tropes of the genre itself.
Vicious Fun, the latest output from horror director Cody Calahan, does exactly this, paying homage to slasher films of old whilst presenting their ideas with a fresh lick of paint. With every actor gloriously chewing the scenery, and clearly having a good time, the infectious eighties energy of the whole film seeps through the screen, culminating into an incredibly entertaining experience.
The film tells the story of Joel, a hapless fool and self-proclaimed horror aficionado who finds himself in a support group for serial killers. This group contains many notable slasher archetypes. There’s the lumbering, quiet beast with mommy issues and a habit of slaughtering horny camp goers. Or the nebbish, seemingly innocent old man in a sweater vest, who hides a true personality of utter maniacal tendencies. Here the filmmakers first showcase a keen love and awareness of the horror films of the past, introducing these characters and the tongue-in-cheek tone.
Evan Marsh provides a performance which straddles the line between the typical well-meaning, sentimental idiot, and the quick-thinking bright spark. We see his character teaming up with unlikely allies in order to make it out of such a bizarre night alive. The loveable, albeit often dim, Joel does indeed go through a pleasant character development, although given the film’s rather short run-time, it does risk being a bare-bone, by the numbers checklist of important character moments which see him overcoming fears and his own flaws.
Yet, for all its flaws, the film isn’t trying to be greater than what it is. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but neither is it trying to be. The intent of the film, as implied by the title itself is simple: to be an entertaining, escapist horror for fans of the genre who just want to have a good time; and a good time it provides.
Another entertaining element of the film is the primary antagonist, and serial killer ringleader, Bob. Played exceptionally well by Ari Millen, the character acts as a distillation of the charismatic, bring-them-home-to-your-parents brand of serial killer. He’s like a bleach blonde Ted Bundy. However, behind that confident façade are the eyes of a sociopathic killer. These unhinged moments allow for the comedic elements of the film to really shine through, and I found myself genuinely laughing as a result of this performance, a much-needed slice of light-hearted satire after such a rough year. For the most part, Millen and Marsh do a lot of the comedic heavy lifting, and I was all for it. It also helped that it was clear a lot of love and appreciation for the genre had gone into their characterisation, and the filmmakers utilised a lot of restraint, in the face of risking the film becoming a total parody.
With his latest film, Calahan has created a witty and stylish love letter to the classic slasher pictures. At times it actually reminded me of the Netflix film The Babysitter, in the way it meshed together sharp critique of the genre and its tropes with vast amounts of humour, which stop the film from feeling like a drag. Ultimately, there is a definite place in the genre as a whole both for films that want to be taken seriously and films that just want to give you a good time. If you go into this film feeling particularly snobbish, or wishing for the next Silence of the Lambs, you are sure to be disappointed. However, those of us who look forward to being entertained and enjoying ourselves for 90 minutes will leave this film with a very positive taste in our mouths. I can definitely see this film becoming one of the low-key classics people fondly refer back to in the years to come.
The title truly doesn’t lie.Vicious Fun is showing at Glasgow Film Festival from 6 March