Vicious Fun

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Vicious Fun
"Silly though it my be on the surface, the film's success is not just down to luck." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

As a critic, something one learns early on about films sold on single big ideas is that they rarely deliver. Every now and again, however, something comes along that breaks that rule. Vicious Fun is one such film, a smart choice for the Frightfest team, and if you're a fan of Eighties horror then it will keep you entertained all the way through.

The concept is this: smug yet sympathetic horror film critic Joel (Evan Marsh) accidentally dozes off after having a few too many drinks in an unfamiliar bar. When he wakes up, there's a private gathering in session. It's a support group meeting for serial killers. If he doesn't want to die, he has to talk the talk and convince them that he's a serial killer too.

Copy picture

Joel is aided somewhat in his efforts by the fact that these killers are very much horror movie clich├ęs. There's Mike (played by former wrestler Robert Maillet), whose hulking form and axe-shaped head speak to his fondness for slaughtering teenagers at summer camps and in sorority houses. There's Fritz (Julian Richings), the frail English doctor who makes a habit of resuscitating is victims so he can kill them over and over again. Hideo (Sean Baek) is a cultured cannibal with a perfectionist streak. Carrie (Amber Goldfarb) has issues with men who don't know how to behave themselves. And Bob - well, he's a natural leader, confident, charismatic, highly intelligent, with Eighties pop star looks and terrible dress sense. He likes to kill the women he has sex with, and he's dating Joel's flatmate.

One of these things may not seems like the others to you, and indeed, there's more to Carrie than meets the eye, but that's only so much help to the blundering Joel, and once the fragile equilibrium of the group is disturbed it's anyone's guess who - if anyone - will make it till morning. Director Cody Calahan and and co-writer James Villeneuve have the sense to expand the story beyond its original premise when occasion calls for it but never let it stray too far, understanding that its strength lies in the characters and in their ability to juggle genre tropes in entertaining ways.

Their acute understanding of these provides for some marvellously amusing moments but there's a different, darker kind of humour hidden underneath, and they don't let the audience get too comfortable, cutting those fuzzy feelings of nostalgia down to size and reminding us what's at stake. Misogyny in the genre gets particularly short shrift but this is handled in a subtle way which speaks to Calahan's skill, little shift of tone prompting viewers to second guess characters' jokes in a way that's reminiscent of the work of Mary Harron. Silly though it my be on the surface, the film's success is not just down to luck.

Beautifully observed yet not so invested in playfulness that it can't deliver a good scare when it needs to, Vicious Fun struggles in places with pacing but is, overall, a real treat for genre fans.

Reviewed on: 06 Mar 2021
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Vicious Fun packshot
A caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. He decides it's best to try and blend in.

Director: Cody Calahan

Writer: Cody Calahan, James Villeneuve

Starring: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet

Year: 2020

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Canada

Festivals:

Glasgow 2021

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