James Di Martino’s feature-length debut, The Faceless Man, is not a remake of the underrated 1958 b-movie The Curse Of The Faceless Man. It is, in fact, a drug-fueled comedy, a nail-biting horror film, a crazed gangster flick, a cancer survivor story, and a drama focusing on familial bonds torn asunder. I don’t have enough words to describe each component in the proper jubilant way I would like. But rest assured, Di Martino, who also wrote the film, manages to fuse all of the disparate elements into a glorious, gonzo whole that is spectacular amounts of fun.
Emily Beckman (a tour de force performance by Sophie Thurling) has been cancer-free these past three years. However, she is in a constant state of fear of getting sick again. So, to take her mind off of everything, Emily’s best friend Nina (a charming Lorin Kauffield) suggests a weekend getaway. To that end, Emily, Nina, and four other friends head out to the country to stay at a cabin owned by Charlie Lamont.
“…clawed hands sneak up behind people and drag them away.”
When they get there, Charlie is nowhere to be found. In his stead, is Eddie (Andy McPhee, clearly having a blast) is there and gives a brief, and extremely awkward, tour of the lodging. After Eddie leaves and the group explores, a duffle bag filled with cocaine is discovered. The drugs are owned by Viktor Nov (a menacing Albert Goikhman), a ruthless, coldly detached mobster who harbors no qualms over killing those in his way. He is searching for the drugs, and the trail leads him to Emily and her friends.
To make matters worse is the odd, faceless monster everyone sees at the house. The clawed hands sneak up behind people and drag them away. The friends are uncertain if the creature is real or a figment of their imagination at first. But as the bodies pile up, and Eddie’s real motivations come through, plus the introduction of the deranged King Dougie (none other than freaking Roger Ward!) everything comes to a head in a delirious, frightening, and exciting manner.
The Faceless Man opens on a long, unbroken shot following a character through the corridors of the hospital. This man sits down next to Emily, wherein she lays into this person. It turns out it is her father. In an unedited sequence, Thurling goes off on her character’s dad and is spellbinding. Thanks to the sharp direction, brilliant performance, and excellent dialogue which lays out the family bonds without feeling like exposition, the scene is a stunning start to one of the best films of 2019.
“…a drug-fueled comedy, a nail-biting horror film, a crazed gangster flick, a cancer survivor story, and a drama focusing on familial bonds torn asunder.”
That moment sets a high bar on all fronts. Happily, Di Martino’s screenplay does not disappoint. The relationship between the friends is believable, and every person has clear motivations. Each person’s rationale is clear and coherent; even the drug dealers have a warped sort of reasoning.
The direction also stays quite fantastic. There is a sequence where everyone is tripping out, and the alternating red and blue lights is hypnotic. More importantly, as mentioned, is how every part feels whole. The action only enhances the drama. The drama gives the horror more weight. The comedy lends some much-needed levity to the fear.
I do not have the room to praise this movie in all the ways it deserves. Suffice to say, The Faceless Man is sublimely perfect in every way you can imagine. While it might sound like its wild ambitions create tonal whiplash at every turn, that is not the case. Thanks to a game cast, intelligent writing, and phenomenal direction, it all seamlessly blends together and works flawlessly.
"…one of the best films of 2019"