Slapface (2018) Short Film Review
by Jeremy Herbert
Few questions chill the indie filmmaker bone structure like, “Are you turning it into a feature?” It’s not unfair, necessarily, but it is a side effect of something more sinister. Short films are too often seen as bench tests for the big time. Proofs of concepts. Dry runs. Weekends wasted in the name of something like science - if they like it at 8 minutes, they’ll love it at 82. Some shorts are made explicitly to see if the dreaded F word is worth the effort, and that doesn’t make them any less worthwhile. But there’s an art to the format and a difference between glorified trailers and complete stories told in the time it takes to enjoy “Freebird”.
Writer-director Jeremiah Kipp has mentioned a feature-length version of Slapface in interviews, but to his credit, the “Freebird” cut of Slapface never feels like a preview of coming attractions.
It opens on a boy (Joshua Kaufman) wandering a monochrome wilderness. The cinematography from Dominick Sivilli takes the charcoal palette of early-winter woods and paints the whole world with it, inside and out. Every image comes prepackaged with the subliminal score of whispered wind and fragile leaves falling apart. It’s foreboding, but not alarming. The same way the boy seems to take his solitude — daring something to come out, come out wherever it is.
The Ogre, as it’s credited, comes running. The creature work by Beatrice Sniper would likely stand the scrutiny of broad daylight, but in the shadows and faded dark, it’s unnervingly shapeless. What we can see places it somewhere between a mummified corpse and a bridge-dwelling troll. Effective to be sure and brought to life by an uncanny performance by Lukas Hassel. If you’ve never seen him, and he’s been in enough that you likely have, you’d never suspect he’s hobbling between the trees and hiding behind that desiccated face.
When the monster does reach the boy, it doesn’t attack and he doesn’t run. Instead, it hugs him. The beating heart of Slapface hinges on this moment and considering the whole thing is only an 8-minute investment, it’d be a shame to spell any of it out.
Partly because there’s not much time for spelling at all. Rare is the short film that tells its story too fast, but Slapface begs for a little breathing room. The monster’s arrival and embrace happen so close together that the touching surprise almost doesn’t feel like one.
Slapface is a refreshingly human take on monster movies, well worth seeking out. I enjoyed the “Freebird” cut and look forward to the feature-length adaptation. But I would’ve absolutely loved the “Freebird (Live)” cut.