Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Sheep Skin

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Sheep Skin
Written and directed by Kurtis M. Spieler
Unearthed Films / Invasive Image / MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2013 / 2016

So I guessed the ending in about three minutes. Happily, I was wrong, even though I still like my idea, I’m glad they went in a different direction. That’s a good sign about this Boston-based production.

What I especially like about the film is the dichotomy of what makes a monster. Is the possibility that a man is a werewolf and slicing-and-dicing people (mostly women, it seems), a person who is a womanizer to the level of workplace harassment, or the people who are convinced someone is a creature and then goes about abusing that individual?

Let me back up and do some ‘splainin’. Todd (Laurence Mullaney) is a middle management douche office drone who is not exactly dedicated to his wife Nicole (Jamie Lyn Bagley) or two kids, but is more of a philanderer as is evidenced by the creepy opening scene. He gets no stars for sympathy at this point, though that’s also questionable at any time.

He is kidnapped by a punk rock band (!?) and brought to a closed warehouse. How can you tell they’re a punk rock band? The leader wears a leather jacket over a black hoodie, a studded belt, and one of those ‘70s-‘80s swinging chain things hanging from his belt to his pants pocket. It isn’t until near the very end that we find out actually they are a singing group, when they try to talk to a security guard and they say they have the band’s equipment set up.

The hoodied ringleader of this little excursion is Schafer (Michael Schantz). He knows Todd from high school days, and in a previous full moon his younger sis was butchered by what seems like a large animal. She was having an affair with Todd, and now Schafer is convinced that Todd is the wolfman in sheep’s clothing.

Helping Schafer out is his band, the Brutalizers, including unpredictable and impetuously hotheaded and violent Boston Clive (named for his accent; Zach Gillette), the scared and out of his league Marcus (Bryan Manley Davis), and Schafer’s girlfriend and lead singer, Dylan (Ria Burns-Wilder, who is also the singer for the band In Rod in real life). With most of them, even though they are the “bad guys,” they garner a lot of sympathy, especially Marcus and Schafer (okay, so let’s call them anti-heroes),

The warehouse set, filled with a chair and clear plastic dropcloths, looks more like it could be from American Guinea Pig (2014), A Serbian Film (2010), or perhaps even Reservoir Dogs (1992), for which there is a certain kinship of elements. Its simplicity helps the viewer concentrate more on the story than on the surroundings, which is a nice change. It’s also roomy enough to give both a feeling of claustrophobia and yet a false sense of freedom, without restricting the crew to a corner.

If you’re worried about me giving anything way, rest assured I’m not one to offer much towards spoiler alerts, even when I want to discuss them badly. Suffice it to say that things go unanticipatedly bumpily, as they tend to do in any film where there one group holds a person or persons hostage.

Most of this film is more of a psychological thriller, as alliances dally, fear and anger is a constant on both sides of the action, and as I said, the viewer begins to wonder who is the true monster(s). Rest assured all will be known. Without giving away anything, the ending reminded me a bit of a story from an old Eerie or Creepy magazine with a similar story ending, which often relied on a Richard Matheson-esque twist.

Most of the acting in the film is quite good. I’ve said in previous blogs that I am a fan of Bagley, who has a good sense of line reading and a keen way of expressing “Are you outta yer fuckin’ mind?” sentiments. Her role is more of an extended cameo, but she makes her scenes stand out. Mullaney does an excellent job as the focus of this group of amateur vigilantes, making the audience wonder whether to hate him or pity him, but he definitely makes it hard, because whether this band of outlaws is right or wrong, Todd’s a tool.

The standout for me, though, was Schantz. As the situation spirals further and further out of control, the intensity he projects come off as real, rather than cartoonishly over the top, even when the action is extreme. Nice job.

The effects are… well, here is where I don’t want to give anything away. The blood and gore look great, and it does please. That they use appliances rather than digital is a nice touch and earns bonus points. Let’s leave it at that for now.

The music by Yuppicide is excellent, of course, but the standout for me was the music over the final credits by the Dick Punchers, in actuality Ria Burns-Wilder and her band, In Rod. They do a hysterical song called “The Dick Punchers’ Anthem” that is straight out of old school punk, and is guaranteed to make you both gird your loins and laugh throughout (e.g., “If you eat my falafel / I’ll punch you in the dick… / Oi! Oi! Oi!”).

Lots of extras are included, such as a decent director’s commentary (also one of the executive producers, Nicholas Papazoglou, who unfortunately is hard to hear as he’s not close enough to the mic), a deleted/trimmed scene that I’m glad they too out because it gives too much information, “Tearing Back the Skin: A Look at the Making of Sheep Skin” which is 11-minute featurette about the SFX and is interesting, and the 12 minute 2007 short with the same name on which the film is based (also by Spieler; only Mullaney appears in both, in the same role) that is worth the watch. Also included is a second version of the film, but this time in Black and White, including an intro by Spieler to explain why. The only thing missing is the usually included long list of trailers of Unearthed Films, but probably due to lack of space considering how much is already included.

This is a meat and potatoes kind of film that is well written and shot on a shoestring budget, a decent cast, and well pace and put together. To be honest, I felt a bit impatient watching it through to the end because I wanted to know if my guess at the ending was correct. When I realized I was wrong, I sat down and watched it again (yes, this time in monochrome), and then I heard the commentary, which is only available in the color version. After spending over three hours in this film and its extras, it was still enjoyable.  

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