Gilbert Speaks on Jeremiah Kipp’s “Slapface”

I have written many articles for Biff Bam Pop and on my own blog about my fabulously talented friend, Jeremiah Kipp. I have over the years reviewed many of his short films and films, but today’s post is about a film that is Jeremiah’s sixth feature where he is the sole writer-director…and let me tell you that Slapface is his masterpiece.

Review and Interview

Slapface is a horror story that wraps itself around a problem that many children are dealing with in today’s world…bullying. Slapface was originally a short film, but as a full feature which was written and directed by Kipp, we are pulled into the troubling world of monsters, both creature and human. It is a tale of sorrow, loss, and abuse…but there is also love that is found in the most unexpected place.

August Maturo plays the part of Lucas, a pre-teen boy living in a rundown house with his older brother, Tom (Mike Manning). Both parents are dead, and Tom is not prepared to play the father figure. He loves his little brother, but there is a mean streak in Tom, which he most likely acquired from the father. One wonders what their early childhood was like living under a tyrant when Tom plays a game of Slapface with Lucas every time that Lucas gets in trouble at school or with the police. Lucas is forced to sit there as Tom forcefully slaps the boy across the face, while encouraging Lucas to slap him back. It is painful to watch, but this is what children, who are victims of abuse, tend to do…imitate the abuser…even when said abuser is no longer alive. Tom really loves August, but he is overwhelmed with parenthood.

The only person who understands Lucas and tries to befriend and protect him is Anna (Libe Barer) a girl that Tom picked up in a bar. When Tom isn’t working on a construction site, he is at the local bar, which means that Lucas is left to the whim of a trio of female pre-teen bullies (Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio, and Mirabelle Lee) that stalk and harass Lucas every day after school. The only person who has any compassion for these orphaned boys at all is a police officer, Sheriff Thurston (Dan Hedaya).

It isn’t surprising then for Lucas to seek compassion, companionship, and love from a creature who everyone else fears. There is rumored to be a witch named Virago (Lukas Hassel) who haunts an old, abandoned building and is known to kill parents of unfortunate abused children. The friendship with Virago has its downside, which comes to a climatic finale that will knock you off your seat. The film will be released on Shudder on February 3rd 2022…and now a few questions for Director Jeremiah Kipp

Gilbert: Jeremiah, I am a fan of all your work, but this film really touched me. What inspired you to write and direct Slapface?

Jeremiah Kipp: My favorite novel is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and there is a powerful middle section in the book where the creature is outside a rural farmhouse imagining the lives of the people inside.  Since I was a little kid growing up in the woods who frequently imagined monsters as my friends, I personalized that idea as a screenplay and incorporated elements of my grandfather’s life. His father played the game of slapface with him as a strange ritual, and he was bullied by three teenage girls, one of whom also made him her secret boyfriend. Real life informed this fantastical narrative and grounded it in something more than the supernatural.  Child abuse is more terrifying than any monster.  And once I switched the gender of the creature from a man to a woman and played off of fairy tale witch mythos, Slapface was born.

Gilbert: The relationship between Lucas and Tom was truly believable, all due to the talented actors: August Maturo and Mike Manning. Was this the first time working with these young men, and do you intend to use them in future films?

Jeremiah Kipp: They are both wonderful actors and close collaborators.  I had never worked with then before. It’s Mike Manning who pitched the idea of Lucas being Tom’s younger brother (in the short film he was the boy’s dad). This made the character so much more interesting, a guy struggling to be a responsible parent when he’s little more than a boy himself. Having those responsibilities thrust on him and relying on the dysfunctional abuse he learned from his dad makes him morally complex. Mike found so much nuance within Tom; you want him to be a good person, he has the capacity for great love, and he keeps falling back on abuse as a way to control his wild kid brother. But we can emphasize with Tom’s struggles; it isn’t too late for him to redeem himself.

August Maturo is a wonder.  I knew his work from that horror movie The Nun and the TV show Girl Meets World.  He’s such an emotional actor, and so specific and peculiar in his choices.  He enriched the film with his presence and was such a joy to be around.  I’d love to work with August and Mike again.

Gilbert: Where was Slapface filmed, and what was the abandoned building? It reminded me of Pennhurst Asylum…also what awards has this film won so far?

Jeremiah Kipp: We mostly shot in Fishkill, NY up in the Hudson Valley. The rustic fall foliage gave the film that autumnal feeling of New England, which gave such a haunting quality to stories such as Washington Irving’s legend of Sleepy Hollow.  The abandoned building used to be a prison for the criminally insane, so you know those walls have seen real torment. Strangely enough, one of the days we filmed there was on Halloween.

The festival life of our film has led us all over the world, from Spain to Flanders to the United Kingdom. We won the Audience Award for Best Horror Film at Cinequest and awards for August’s dynamic performance and Barry Neely’s haunting score at Grimmfest.  The greatest reward is hearing about how viewers have responded to the film. At FrightFest the audiences were leaving in tears. That’s been so good to hear, when they expect a fun monster movie and in addition find something that emotionally resonates.  That meant so much to hear.

Gilbert: What are you working on now?

Jeremiah Kipp: I am directing a new horror feature down in Savannah, GA next month, and a short film with ghosts in it called Draw Up and Stare starring great actors Michael O’Keefe, Linda Powell and Melissa Leo will be running the festival circuit this year. But right now, I’m focused on being very present for Slapface.  I’m grateful we have the chance to talk about it with you Marie, since you have been seeing this one develop from short proof of concept to full feature. This project was a labour of love, as you know, and sharing this with critics like yourself and audiences is deeply meaningful for me. 

Slapface will go live on Shudder on February 3rd. Check it out, folks. It is horror at its best.

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