Having picked up several awards when it premiered at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, including Best Picture, Aussie horror The Faceless Man is making its way to home distribution.
The film sees cancer survivor Emily (Sophie Thurling) going on a long weekend in rural Australia with a handful of her friends. Well, we can assume they’re friends, but they don’t appear to actually like hanging out with each other. Unbeknownst to Emily and co, they’re being pursued by a mob boss, Viktor (Albert Goikhman), who wants to retrieve the suitcase of cocaine that was stolen from him by one of Em’s chums.
But wait, there’s more!
Emily and crew have also caught the attention of King Dougie (Roger Ward, Turkey Shoot) who doesn’t care for city folk coming into his town. There’s also the issue of locals Silverbeard (Andy McPhee) and Barry the C*** (Daniel Reader) hanging around the gang’s holiday rental in the hopes of having sex with the twenty-something friends. Oh, and there’s also a bit of a problem with masked figures roaming the corridors at night and a scarred Faceless Man jumping out at Emily whenever she looks in the mirror. Is he merely a manifestation of Emily’s trauma or does in he a play a larger part in the narrative? Yes. Well, no. Well, maybe. It’s all a bit unclear.
If you haven’t ascertained from the above, The Faceless Man is overstuffed with plot. It’s not so much a case of Plot A and Plot B, but also Plot C, D and maybe even E. In fact, it’s so saturated with numerous narratives that you’re unlikely to be surprised to read how little the titular monster appears on screen. Which is a shame, because the film’s monster is perhaps one of the strongest parts of the film, alongside the rest of the film’s aesthetic.
It’s clear that writer-director James Di Martino, making his feature-length debut, is having a whale of time playing around with genres and giving shout-outs to his favourite filmmakers. Indeed, The Faceless Man is a patchwork quilt of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to numerous cinematic classics. In fact, the biggest problem, aside from the film bursting at the seams with characters and a lack of focus, is the constant references to other films – better films that you could be watching instead of The Faceless Man. When a character is stabbed several times, a home-brand version of Psycho’s shower theme plays. Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchise get a look in. There’s a passing glance to Evil Dead. Heck, even everyone’s 2017 Salt Bae meme is thrown into the mix.
The biggest influence to Di Martino is the Tarantino, which culminates in the director combining the rape scene from Pulp Fiction with the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs. Make of that what you will. Di Martino’s egregious borrowing is probably more barefaced than Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs being ‘merely influenced’ by City on Fire. There’s so much referencing of other pieces of work, the film ends up feeling like an overtly serious entry in the Scary Movie franchise.
And it’s a shame, because at times Di Martino has a tight control of the camera and his solid use of practical effects mean you really will wince when a mobster starts cutting heads off left, right and centre. Gore hounds, you’re not going to have your thirst quenched, but it’ll certainly tick a number of boxes. The rest of the time, you’ll be asking yourself what the film would look like if it were shorter and if Di Martino relied a little less on homages. The filmmaker has made it clear that Faceless Man was a way to process his own diagnosis with cancer; I want to be able to say that shines through the film. Unfortunately, it’s all just a bit of a scare-free mess.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★✩✩✩
‘The Faceless Man’ is released On Demand on August 28th.