The Faceless Man
Sophie Thurling, Lucas Pittaway, Roger Ward, Andy McPhee
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…loveably lurid and guiltily entertaining…
The Faceless Man begins with a long, wordy, moodily intense scene in a hospital corridor which sees a young woman diagnosed with cancer bitterly arguing with a long absent father who she seethingly accuses of neglect, narcissism and alcoholism. It’s a confronting, well executed scene that suggests that an emotionally wrought psycho-thriller is about to unspool. And then, well, things take a decidedly different turn. After the controlled slow-burn of the film’s opening sequence, The Faceless Man goes glaringly, amusingly off the rails.
Written and directed on a shoestring with blaring gusto by enterprising and hard-grafting feature debutante, James Di Martino (who has five shorts under his belt), this little-Aussie-film-that-could is a wild and woolly affair that gleefully references everything from contemporary Blumhouse horror and vintage Ozploitation through to Mad Max, Cabin Fever and Quentin Tarantino, with one scene even mashing up Michael Madsen’s ear-snipping act from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction’s infamous bring-out-the-gimp showstopper.
The story draws in a disparate swing of themes and tropes, as a group of largely insufferable teens (including Sophie Thurling’s Emily, whose cancer is now in remission three years after the opening scene) head off to a country retreat for a night of serious partying. Unfortunately, they have unknowingly lifted a suitcase full of coke from a vicious gangster, and, also unfortunately, the redneck denizens of the small town in which they are planning to party have a very, very, very serious and ruthlessly enforced just-say-no-to-drugs policy. Oh, and yeah, there’s also a weird, faceless, humanoid monster skulking around…who may or may not just be a psychological hiccup of one of the teens…and there’s also mention of a serial killer known as The Axeman.
As you can probably guess, The Faceless Man is not short on ideas. This makes it a lot of fun, but it also leads to an unavoidable unevenness of tone, with the film awkwardly lurching from broad, straight-up-the-guts, off-colour comedy to serious drama, often in the one scene. The variance in performance is also uneven, with the teens (including young actor Lucas Pittaway, in his first feature since making his auspicious debut in Snowtown) playing it straight, as the bigger name supporting players (Mad Max legend Roger Ward and busy character actor Andy McPhee) go wonderfully, hilariously over the top. The tight budget hurts, but also helps in a strange way, with the lashings of blood, decapitations, dismemberments, stabbings and shootings lent a goofy charm courtesy of the ropey special effects. The movie’s monster, however, is very creepy and well-crafted indeed.
Though not always completely successful, The Faceless Man is loveably lurid and guiltily entertaining, and with a little more money (and just a smudge more restraint), James Di Martino could likely follow it up with something truly special.
The Faceless Man will premiere in Melbourne at a special red carpet Halloween event on October 31. Click here for tickets and more information. The upcoming screening at Monster Fest is already sold out.