Thursday 15 December 2022

The Leech (2022)

Christmas brings different worries for different kinds of  people. Some fret about having enough food and drink in stock to feed a hundred unexpected visitors. Some worry about having enough money to get a decent gift for their loved ones. Some feel the strain of pressure added to them by the fake/unrealistic displays posted all over social media. And some worry about the many guests they will have to tolerate for most of Christmas Day, whether it is a friend of a friend, a relative not seen at any other time of the year, or someone you just know is going to drink a bit too much and make things tense after dinner. The Leech makes use of this last worry to craft a darkly comedic horror movie, and the end result is, well, it sure is something.

Graham Skipper plays Father David, a priest who ends up offering his home as temporary shelter to Terry (Jeremy Gardner). Terry isn’t exactly the most respectful and appreciative houseguest, and things become more problematic when Father David also allows Terry’s down-on-her-luck partner, Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke), to use his home as her own. Boundaries are tested, and pushed way beyond breaking point, and Father David finds himself struggling to change the ways of his guests while they resist his moral lessons. In fact, the pair become more and more determined to erode away the goodwill of their host, almost as if they relish the mindgames and battle of wills  

The second feature film written and directed by Eric Pennycoff (who did great work on Sadistic Intentions, also working with Gardner and Zaudtke on that one), The Leech is almost as good as you might expect a horror comedy with this cast to be. Almost. 

There is nothing to complain about here when it comes to the cast. Skipper, Gardner, and Zaudtke have a lot of fun together, whether they are probing one another with subtle jabs or engaging in outright antagonism, and the fourth main performance, a small turn from Rigo Garay, is enjoyably low-key alongside the escalating insanity of the three leads.

The big problem comes from Pennycoff, who doesn’t seem to set his mind on exactly the right tone he wants. Despite some ridiculousness, and the great performances (Gardner sells every line so well), there isn’t quite enough solid laughs here. Nor are there quite enough moments of tension or horror. Pennycoff may be happy with the end result, and I have seen a lot of praise for this from other film fans, but I couldn’t help feeling as if it was a prowling tiger that you soon realise has had the claws and fangs removed.

Working best when playing out like some horrible nightmare you cannot wake up from, The Leech has great potential in its premise, and has the right onscreen talent, but ends up as a slight disappointment. It isn’t bad, and I always appreciate someone trying to do something a bit different. It’s just not great.


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