A group of five women go camping in the woods to celebrate a friend's birthday over 4/20 weekend. But when they cross the turf of an illegal marijuana grow operation they must struggle to survive the living nightmare.
April 3rd, 2018
Vanessa Rose Parker
How’s about smokin’ a joint and sitting back to relax with a good horror flick, dudes and dudettes?
Well, here’s a worthwhile horror outing (it’s about camping in the great outdoors, so the use of the word “outing” is apt) which takes on the usual slasher tropes and drops it into a massive, swirling bong.
4/20 Massacre follows five female friends as they head into the forests of Big Bear, California – to celebrate this pot-lover’s holiday of April 20th and also their friend’s birthday. They’re all bringing their own baggage to this celebration – mostly secret loves. And their trek takes them straight into the “don’t go there” territory of some illegal marijuana growers. Naturally, havoc ensues.
You’ll recognize plenty of call-outs to previous slasher films – notably to the Friday the 13th franchise. There’s the old coot offering warnings to the campers, characters making out before being sliced-n-diced, and my favorite – a camera shot (and the subsequent chase through the woods) straight out of Friday the 13th Part 2. I’d be curious if it was intended to be an homage, or if I’m just nerdy enough to make such a connection.
There’s a lot to like about the film – namely the believable performances from the five leads. Not all of the actors get deep and rich character histories, but I never questioned any line deliveries or acting choices. Special shout-outs to Jamie Bernadette as birthday girl Jess and her best bud Aubrey (played by Vanessa Rose Parker) – particularly in their “come to Jesus” conversation as they sit on a log at a beautiful mountain overlook.
I was surprised by some of this character depth. While some of the character discussions (one of them quite esoteric) were written and acted well, they sort of felt out of place to me – certainly as they continued on.
And that brings me to what I feel are slight tonal issues. As is to be expected, there’s the usual “reefer” humor, not out of place in a James Franco/Seth Rogen film – but when things start to cook, the film turns quite brutal. Of note, is one character’s death (I’ll not say who, but c’mon, you know there are going to be some killings here) which had me actually cringing in its unpleasantness. But then you have earlier shots of the killer smoking a joint – and that’s obviously played for laughs. So these two extremes feel unevenly matched.
I had a few other problems with the film – nothing detrimental, but certainly noticeable.
While the film looks very cool (the coloring is sort of a washed-out sepia tone, while still in color), but some of the other technical chunks were off. I’m talking about a few bits of the editing (done by writer/director Dylan Reynolds). In that “mountain overlook” scene above, there’s some very jarring editing. Some of the cuts back and forth between Jess and Aubrey feel prematurely “clipped”. And on top of that, there are continuity problems within this scene. In that same back and forth, facial expressions change and character gazes are switched. A couple of these missteps in a film are forgivable, but this entire scene was inconsistent – and quite distracting.
The soundtrack was interesting. I liked some of the songs (one particular 80s-inspired track truly delighted), but at points, the music overpowered the scenes – suddenly going into “montage” mode, thus dimming some of the actor’s dialogue. And speaking of montages – there are quite a few. Too many montages always screams to me, “filler!”
And the actual score I really enjoyed. There’s the conspicuous use of a recorder in all kinds of gnarly ways – during tense moments – and that certainly made me believe that a recorder could be used for more than just a 4th grade rendition of “Hot Cross Buns” (as has been my personal experience). I thought the instrument’s constant presence in the score was very unique and very inspired.
The five lead characters are all female (this will immediately call out similarities to Neil Marshall’s The Descent – which had six female leads) and four of them are lesbians. I thought this was an interesting approach to a slasher flick and a true way to dispel that “damsel in distress” motif of so many like-minded horror exercises. Where other films might “require” a male presence to “save” the women, this film couldn’t be further from that overused cliché.
And there are some very creative kills – certainly some unique tools used to dispatch these ill-fated characters – and which would no doubt warm the heart of our beloved Jason Voorhees. And the gore effects are solidly executed and in a couple of cases, borderline stomach-turning. Well done on that front.
The killer’s guise is pretty original and quite creepy. Once a few things are revealed (don’t worry, not here!), you’ll understand why this character is dressed this way. This final revelation also turns out to be quite timely and quite political – and certainly unexpected.
There are some great “boo” moments (I jumped several times) and while there is never any true pulse-pounding suspense – the film keeps a steady pace.
And not being a pot aficionado myself, I was intrigued by Donna’s (Stacey Danger) history behind this “reefer holiday”. Further research to scratch that curiosity itch will be required.
I’ve said it before about other slasher sub-genre flicks – this is nothing ground-breaking, but it definitely kept my interest. It’s a good time at the movies and worthy of a recommendation.
With a strong female cast and creative/plentiful gore, 4/20 Massacre also has a few issues – but nothing rolling a joint and lighting up wouldn’t fix.
4/20 Massacre will be released on April 3rd, 2018.