A boy deals with the loss of his mother by creating a dangerous relationship with a monster rumored to live in the woods.

Editing: Katie Dillon
Barry J. Neely

Cast: August Maturo, Mike Manning, Libe Barer, Mirabelle Lee, Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio, Lukas Hassel, Dan Hedaya

Directors: Jeremiah Kipp
Writers: Jeremiah Kipp
Cinematography: Dominick Sivilli

When Lucas’ (August Maturo) older brother Tom (Mike Manning) explains that they “must do this” before slapping him, you feel a shiver go down your spine. He calls it “slapface”, a game the two have played a lot, a game that the older brother has the upper hand in due to his age and strength, yet a game he explains is needed to help them work through issues. When Lucas slaps Tom back, his smaller hands barely make a mark, while Tom’s rock Lucas’ head sideways. 

Slapface is a film about loss, trauma and abuse. Not that it hides those themes, but the is also a monster here to sometimes distract you from the true villains on screen. Lucas spends his time away from school aimlessly, finding ways to deal with his pain. The loss of his parents laying undeath within his brain, and with no proper care from his brother or teachers, he finds himself in trouble. Lucas does like a girl, Moriah (Mirabelle Lee). Still, her friends, twins Donna (Bianca D’Ambrosio) and Rose (Chiara D’Ambrosio), bully Lucas, and although Moriah likes Lucas back, she won’t stand up to the bullies and join in instead. One day after running from the twins, they dare Lucas to enter an abandoned building, where Lucas encounters a monster he quickly forms an unnaturally strong bond with.

While Tom spends his nights at bars drinking, he’s warned by the town’s Sheriff about Lucas’s behaviour, but with little care from Tom, he’s content to play slapface rather than discuss what’s going on in Lucas’ head. Even as Tom’s girlfriend Anna (Libe Barer) attempts to connect to Lucas — one of the only characters in the film to do so — Tom pushes her away. Later in the movie, Tom even gaslights Anna into feeling bad about her choices to care about Lucas and not wanting to stand by as Tom ignores what’s happening with Lucas and instead play another game of slapface. 

The slow build of Slapface leads to a satisfying and emotional finale that hits you right in the chest. It’s not as if the film ever tries to distract you from the true villain and danger in Lucas’ life, but it does try super-hard to distract you from who that could be. For the movies final act to work so well required a solid performance from August Maturo, who does a fantastic job of portraying this lost and tormented and suffering child. The entire film is on his back for the most part, as his performance is raw and empathic for the viewer is integral. 

Oddly the monster in the Slapface can often distract from more interesting and primary themes at play. There’s plenty left to be discussed about the monster by the time the credits roll, but it’s not a particularly intriguing monster. I wouldn’t say I liked the creature’s design, and none of its kills made for exceptionally high points of the film, both being shot in a very amateurish fashion and lacking the proper shock value. 

Slapface got under my skin in more than one way, and at times it can be hard to watch due to the nature of the films material. The themes and direction Jeremiah Kipp is pulling apart here are worth exploring, but as a monster movie, it’s a bit of a letdown.