October 14, 2014
Natalie Victoria as Rae
Arielle Brachfield as Angela
Stephanie Greco as Jordin
You’ll no doubt want to gargle some Listerine, scrub with some bleach and steel wool and install a heavy-duty, industrial water-filter into your home’s plumbing system – once you’ve taken in this flick. There’s enough coughing, hacking and blood-letting to place any confirmed germophobe right into a self-induced quarantine. I had an honest-to-God headache after the film was over. But in a good way.
Good performances, an excellent (if wholly unoriginal) set-up and truly remarkable and gross-out make-up and splatter effects make this flick – the aptly-titled Chemical Peel (you won’t be let down by this over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek title) a very good time at your home cinema. Popcorn optional – much like some of the characters in the film, you may not have much of an appetite during or after.
It starts out with a very The Descent-y premise, complete with a tragic car accident. And then some time later, this same bunch of lady friends make their way to a very remote cabin to have a visit, a few drinks and to celebrate. In The Descent, it was to celebrate that Sarah finally got over her tragedy, enough to go on a fun spelunking tour. In Chemical Peel, one of their own is about to be wed, and so this will be a bachelorette party to end all bachelorette parties! Problem is (isn’t there always a problem?), their first evening in the cabin, a cargo train crashes nearby, spewing forth multiple deadly chemicals – which on their own are toxic, but put them together in this nasty brew, and you’ve got yourself something extremely fast-acting, inescapable and very deadly.
The film has echoes of Stephen King’s The Mist, Cabin Fever and the little known, beautifully ironic indie-gem, Right at Your Door, in which a young couple is forced to quarantine themselves inside their southern California home to escape a recent biological weapons attack in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s a pretty cliché beginning as we’re introduced to the cast of characters – the pseudo-lesbian (Lacy Fisher), the quiet bookworm (Stephanie Greco – channeling some Square Pegs Sarah Jessica Parker), the doting mother (Lon’ye Perrine) – by the way, who in God’s name brings a newborn along to a bachelorette party?, the dumb one (Leigh Davis), the complete bitch (Arielle Brachfield) and the voluptuous lead whose story we will follow (Natalie Victoria). I wasn’t too keen on these stereotypes, but before you know it, these ladies are up shit-creek and there’s no further time for them to “be” these tired characters, ‘cause they all go into crisis mode. Sure, stupid choices are made, but it’s a horror film. I’ve come to let some of these convenient story points go, for the sake of the bigger picture.
It’s quite an ensemble cast – all of the women are really good, very believable, but no one really stands out – they all just act the hell out of these parts! And the amount of crying going on in the film is unparalleled! On top of that, these tears are all justified, seemingly without the benefit of glycerin and completely sold by the actresses. Very well done.
I will take a moment to give some kudos to Natalie Victoria as our blonde and beautiful lead Rae. Rae’s carrying some heavy duty guilt on her back and hiding several secrets from her friends. It all comes out, and we’re again treated to more moments clearly lifted from The Descent. She’s really the only level-headed one in the mix (of course, she’s our heroine), and so it’s easy to identify with her.
The real star of this flick is the make-up and gore work. As this chemical spill seeps into the taped-up cabin, the ladies faces become more and more blemished. And when the sickness takes over and other poor choices are made (a shower scene rivaling the bathtub scene in Cabin Fever is gratifyingly disgusting and juicy), the filmmakers let the blood really flow. While not quite as juicy as the aforementioned The Descent, there is absolutely no let-down in the icky-pants department.
There’s no gratuitous nudity here, and with so many attractive women you would have expected such. It was actually a welcome change from the norm in horror pictures (certainly for a mostly female cast) – practically handing the viewer an invitation to actually buy into the events and simultaneously providing heaping sympathies to the poor souls stuck inside this remote home. With no “distractions” as it were, these people seemed pretty real (again, aside from many questionable character actions). Working to that same end was the dialogue. More than just a few times, there were lines I found strikingly real. One such example, as things heated up (figuratively and literally – flesh is burning off here, potential viewers) was a moment when the characters realize that the power is now off in the cabin. Rae (Victoria) informs a frazzled Angela (Brachfield) of this development, as Angela is trying to check her cell phone, which obviously did not charge. After multiple, “the power’s out”, Angela turns on Rae with a cutting, “I heard you the first three times you said it.” It’s seemingly a small detail to receive such high praise, but there are several other dialogue exchanges which had the same effect. They were real, and in such a fictional (not so fictional I’m afraid) scenario, these key moments are effective at drawing us in.
Finally, there is one particular set-up which receives a brilliant pay-off when a random male gun-toting hunter breaks into the cabin and ends up having a meal with the remaining ladies. It’s not an all-important story point, but it was well executed and unexpected – which means the foreshadowing was there, but not in our face. That’s always a delight – to be caught off guard, but be able to understand how the story got there.
It’s nothing that will win Oscars or break box-office records, but this is a good little horror film. And if you love your David Cronenberg “body turning against you” scary stuff, this will be worth a look. It’s obviously an external threat which is attacking these ladies, but once it takes hold on the inside, it is the revolt of these infected bodies which is indeed revolting.
Chemical Peel is currently available on DVD/VOD. Fair warning, though – be ready to give yourself a Silkwood-esque shower and scrub afterward!