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  • Rev Horror

Faceless After Dark

Dir. Raymond Wood (2023)

A scream queen finds herself at the mercy of her biggest fan, who dresses like the killer in her movie.

It's often taken for granted how difficult it is to be in the entertainment industry. It's hard enough to break in, with millions of people trying in vain to get their big break and never being able to get their feet underneath them. This is something most people understand, and it's even a conversation that I've had with my brother, who wanted/wants to be an actor: it's a tough road, and even if you're amazing, you still have to get lucky. Enough attention is not paid, however, to how difficult it continues to be, even after you've had your "big break." Very few actors go from job to job, and even fewer who do work are able to make ends meet from just their creative pursuits. Add in the encounters with creepy fans, the social media negativity and demands, and the sexist/ageist/racist encounters that most people who aren't giant pieces of shit would even consider as a possibility, and you're talking about a line of work that is a constant mental and emotional drain at the best of times. Enter Bowie (Jenna Kanell), a wannabe actress who had one big role in a slasher film and is now reaping the consequences.

Bowie starred as the heroine in a film with a killer clown (which echoed Kanell's real life experience in the role of Tara in Terrifier and Terrifier 2) and has subsequently been forced into the convention circuit to make ends meet. Her much more successful girlfriend Jessica (Danielle Lyn) has recently booked a gig in a superhero movie and flown off to London, refusing to acknowledge Bowie in public and leaving her to fend for herself back home. As Bowie struggles with advancing her career and must deal with shitty behavior from followers on social media who can't seem to help themselves from talking shit about her appearance or sending random dick pics, she encounters a slightly bigger problem: a deranged fan who decides to hunt her down dressed as the clown from her movie. Seeking to recreate the plot, the clown is determined to make her re-play her role in the film, possibly ending her career before it ever really starts. To say that this experience changes her... would be an understatement.

Bowie is a deeply damaged character, someone who appears completely ill equipped to handle the little fame she has received while in pursuit of more. She is also an intriguing character, an insight into what it's really like in Hollywood on the peripherals, and it's such a devastatingly fucked up experience that you can't help but feel for her: her inability to handle the attention would, more than likely, be our own. Infuriatingly enough, this is Kanell's personal experience. In fact, some of the text messages, and even the dick pics that flash briefly on-screen, are ones that were actually sent to her in real life. It's a disturbing reality for women in horror, and it's a wonderful thing that she is drawing attention to, especially after some of the experiences that Lauren LaVera recounted on social media after her starring role in Terrifier 2. It's easy to blow these experiences off because you can't imagine they could actually be as bad as people claim, and yet indeed they are.

Hollywood has the unique ability to "other" its stars. The people we see on our screens are built up to be these paragons of humanity, these perfect specimens of what anyone would want in a partner, friend, what have you. Despite the connection that so many people feel with these famous people, the real disconnect is that none of it seems real. Fans don't view them as real people, despite their adoration. This, combined with the detachment automatically provided when interacting with people online in general, enables people to say or do anything they want without fear of reprisal. Why would you be looked down upon by talking to someone who has put themselves in the public eye and aren't real people anyway? They are real people, of course, a discussion of which Faceless After Dark is happy to have with its audience.

Despite her character's inability to hit the big time, Kanell herself is excellent in this film. Her performance is deeply nuanced and does a phenomenal job of portraying what the character's experience would be like in real life as well as the internal struggles that are always present behind the eyes. Kanell gives a rangy exhibition of talent in the film, a flawed personality with more than a little psychotic ever-present in her behaviors. Kanell's writing also shines, as the film is clever and entertaining throughout, even as we are not particularly able to identify with the characters on-screen.

The one gripe I have with the film is the breakdowns of frenetic visuals that often occur between cuts. Strobing lights, quick flashes of newspaper articles, text messages, and scenes of destruction intended to show Bowie's quickly fraying mental state feel unnecessary because, well, any doubts as to her remaining stability are quickly erased without these interloping scenes. It's an artistic way to show it, sure, but it makes the film a little harder to watch than it would otherwise have been. The cinematography surrounding these artistic choices, however, is excellent, feeling every bit on par (and often above) with the films that Bowie (and her real-life counterpart Kanell) stars in. It feels like a choice that didn't need to be made, and perhaps the film would have been a little better had these disorienting segments been left on the cutting room floor.

All in all, Faceless After Dark is a really good depiction of the dark side of filmmaking, of course taken to its absolute extremity. It's a good horror movie in its own right, but its basis in reality elevates it to a disturbing, socially-condemning level that other films aren't quite able to capture. As a man, it's a tough watch, knowing that this is the experience that so many women in the industry must live through, but it also makes you consider your actions a little bit more carefully, which I'm sure is part of the point. Director Raymond Wood does a fine job with the aesthetics, which keep its audience as off kilter as its central character, and the film as a whole is a pretty effective takedown of an industry that we all know and love. Maybe if we give the folks in our community who behave badly an example of how unlucky they could be, shit will start to fix itself. If not, Bowie is willing to fix it for you.

Who this movie is for: Slasher movie fans, Horror convention devotees, Pissed off celebrities

Bottom line: Faceless After Dark is an intriguing combination of Fear and Hard Candy, delivering a condemnation of fan behavior while also expressing the anger and frustration lurking inside the people forced to deal with these bad actors. It largely avoids any over-the-top gore, instead focusing on the experience lived by so many in the real world while still showing that feminist rage in a productive way. It's definitely worth a watch for horror fans, if only to shape their behavior when dealing with the actors behind their favorite films. Give this one a watch if you get the chance.

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