Joining the ever-growing contemporary metal horror genre this year is Eric Pennycoff’s Sadistic Intentions, which recently had its UK premiere at FrightFest. While it’s a decent slow-burn horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Pennycoff’s debut feature doesn’t ever fully reach the heights the genre is known for.
Sadistic Intentions is great with contrasts, which is something that is featured throughout the film. It opens on a bright, sunny day as the camera pans over a garden to reveal pretty flowers, a luscious green lawn, healthy bushes and then… a blood-spattered flower, followed by a dead body with a bag over its head. Off-screen, Kevin (Michael Patrick Nicholson) has slaughtered a man with a hammer. We hear a man yell “What have you done to my child?” and it really feels like he’s gonna be next.
After this cold open, we’re introduced to Chloe (Taylor Zaudtke) who is in her room contemplating the pros and cons of studying in the Bahamas. She gets a call from Kevin, who happens to be her weed dealer, with a proposition for her: his friend needs to unload some weed before flying back home and Kevin wants her to front half of it because it’ll make them both some good money. Though hesitant at first, Chloe agrees because studying in the Bahamas sounds amazing but she has “no fucking money.” When Chloe arrives at the address, which happens to be a mansion, she meets Stu (Jeremy Gardner) who is there for band practice. Kevin, however, is nowhere to be seen and eventually calls to apologies, promising he’ll be there in 20 minutes.
Stu and Chloe get to know each other as they wait for their host to arrive. They are both polar opposites: Stu is a depressed metalhead who is occupied with dark thoughts, and Chloe is a laid back college chick who smokes weed to mellow out. It’s evident that Pennycoff relied heavily on his actors to deliver captivating and believable performances and, for the most part, they do. Zaudtke and Gardner take up a lot of screen time together as they bond and, though the pace is slow at times, they have enough charisma to hold our attention. It almost feels like we’re watching a rom-com which surprisingly works to good effect.
Staying true to the film’s themes, Stu teaches Chloe how to do a metal scream and tells her about the posers in metal. He explains how there are guys who will wring out dead kittens on stage, but there used to be guys who would do that when nobody when watching, just to see what comes out what end. “I just mean that metal used to be intimidating” he clarifies. If you know anything about heavy metal history, or if you’ve seen Lords of Chaos (2018), you’ll know that Stu is right and the music genre has some truly dark origins. But Stu also knows that he fits in with the posers as he says his and Kevin’s band, Morbid Annihilation, aren’t helping: “We’re not pushing the boundaries of the genre, we’re just adding to the noise.” As it turns out, the pair of them want to do something truly metal and it might not just be Kevin who has sadistic intentions.
There’s an uneasy atmosphere throughout the entire film, even during the brief sparks of romance between Stu and Chloe. Kevin is lurking nearby the mansion, having never left, and sometimes, among the storm, we can hear rustling bushes or his heavy breathing, in a similar vein to Billy in Black Christmas (1974). Coinciding with Stu’s weed hit halfway through the film, things start to unravel as Kevin’s intentions finally start to come to light. The third act gets off to a rocky start, but it has some surprises which save the film from being underwhelming.
Sadistic Intentions is well-shot with a decent script, but some parts do feel slow. It lacks the excitement that its fun premise promises and the lack of metal in the soundtrack seems like a huge misfire. It’s almost like the film itself is a poser – but maybe that’s the point. Sadistic Intentions does subvert expectations at times and it manages to deliver a good time despite its flaws. Pennycoff’s somewhat lackluster debut has surely laid way for more favorable projects from him in the future.