13th Jan2021

‘Sleepaway Slasher’ Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Sara Silva, Shawn Thomas Diefenbach, Alana Johnson, Kimberley Aria Peterson, Yevgeniya Kats, Steven Anderson, Peter Angelinas, Steven Wody, Raleigh Cain, Mackenzie Gilmore, Conor William Wright, David Alan Madrick, Demi Edwards, Jason A. Coombs | Written by Alyssa Amer, Kabir Chopra, Ryan Crash, Catherine Delaloye, Anthony DiMieri, Carrie King, Zoe Lasden-Lyman, Ericka Mitton, Mia Sorensen, Prashant Thakker, Mariana Trevino | Directed by Alexander Birrell, Eugen Bräunig, Emma Hall-Martin, Hayley Monek, Martin Murray, Michael Newton, Christina Reilly, Ben Venturina, Kerey Viswanathan

We kick off this slasher film on firm ground, with a crying woman (with bosoms slightly visible) running around the woods, crying. She promptly runs afoul of some rather splendidly attired cultists dressed in remarkable red velour cloaks. We then skip to an audience, who are watching this ripe old movie, clapping, and giving it looks of appreciation and reverence as if it were directed by Kubrick himself. It turns out this is a film festival, of sorts. They are watching a scene from this great, lost horror masterpiece that was never completed due to an on-set tragedy. It looks to me, like a poorly made Go-Pro movie from 2018, but the heck do I know?

A load of young film makers have “won” the right to come along on a 3-week retreat and rival groups will make competing horror films. The winner being picked to take home a cash prize. What could possibly go wrong? The retreat is on the site of where the original movie was being filmed, and a tragedy occurred. But I am sure everything will be fine. Also, in the 1700s a load of women were apparently burned on the site for being witches, so that is a thing. There are also rumours of ghosts on the site. Before we know what is happening, a young starlet is being convinced by her plaid shirt wearing director to film a scene of her being in a real-life burning cabin. Given the actress who was previously burned alive on site, this is potentially not the best idea.

It is an hour into Sleepaway Slasher before our budding filmmakers start getting picked off for real, and just like the rest of the film, it seems to get picked up on camera.

The first thing to say, is the acting is not bad. It a bit cheesy, but that is fine. Slashers can be worthy of study at film school, but there are lots of reasons the genre is flooded with cheesy shock knock offs. The cast here is large, and the film splits off, showing us scenes from the films that are being made, which does not help the pacing. We also get split off into point of view shots, which are about as welcome as a hockey mask wearing knife wielding lunatic on Friday 13th (do not write in, I know that is not quite right). There is an awful witch film being made, and frankly I would love to watch that, it looks like brilliant fun.

I also like the plinky-plonky 1980s synth music which pops up from time to time. If the whole thing was not quite so painfully mediocre, I might suppose that the whole thing is a highbrow play on the concept of the horror genre, and what it might do to us, the actors, and the viewer. But honestly, I think it is a huge stretch.

Honestly, there is a lot going on here, various films within films, ancient ghosts, spooky old film directors, POV scenes. None of these contrasting styles, or themes work together in any meaningful way, or add up to anything. In fact it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts. There is a lot of mud thrown at the wall, and most of it does not stick, but pools up in a thick gloop.

The direction is OK, it looks like someone had access to a drone, so we get some lovely shots of the autumn trees. The big problem here is that Sleepaway Slasher does not have enough content for its 1 hour and 40 minutes run time. Whole scenes go by without moving the film along in any meaningful way. We also get too many, interchangeable characters that are not fully developed, so it is quite tricky to remember who was, who is chasing who and if this is “real” or if it is from one of the horror films being made. The characters also act unbelievably as the events unfold, being readily convinced that seemingly alarming events are “all part of a film”. If in doubt, I would be calling the cops.

Our film makers are treated to a viewing of what really happened on the set of the original film. Our heroine gets “accidentally burned alive” which causes a split in the camp, most of the men seem to be quite relaxed about being shown that. Most of the women are upset by it (which is the correct attitude, but they are very shrill, so they lose points). The “girls vs. boys” narrative does not really make a great deal of sense, but I enjoyed it more than everything else going on here, sure it was silly and illogical but, when the film is slowly sliding towards the credits, why not spice it up with some wildcard nonsense.

Sadly, I find Sleepaway Slasher decidely average, slightly boring films are the hardest to review. Really bad films review always write themselves (though in fairness I do often feel a bit mean, ripping apart people’s passion projects when they are not up to much). Good films are equally easy to review. At the time of writing this review, the IMDB score of 3.0 seems a bit low. Having said that, I do not give films scores as comparing apples and oranges to zombies and rom-coms all sounds fraught with contradictions.

After the glacial pace, the end of Sleepaway Slasher hits us quite abruptly. We are expecting a twist to explain what we have just sat through, but the film then decides to take a hard left turn and chose to not explain anything. It is a bold move.

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