There’s no denying that Vicious Fun is slickly made; bathed and birthed in a whole heap of stylish neons, from a synthy score to a quirky but quickly meaningless ’80s period setting. It’s gorgeous to look at, delves out plenty of practical gore, and happily lives up to the edgy fun and games the title promises. A decent enough addition to any late night genre slot, for sure. But at the same time, not one that’s particularly consistent, or all that memorable either.
The plot might say otherwise – a self-confessed loser finding himself well-and-truly in the lions den, when he blacks out and wakes up in the middle of a self-help group for larger-than-life serial killers. It’s a witty spin on slasher movies that’s probably ten years too late to really have any impact, but at least makes for an amusing set-up. And with a fair-few well timed rug-pulls along the way, it’s pacy enough.
The real problem is the film’s characters. It’s hard not to be almost instantly rubbed-up the wrong way by its lead, a pretentious early-20s horror bro with little life outside a dab of snivelling journalism (maybe this is hitting too close to home?). Evan Marsh’s Joel plays like a particularly dated sitcom lead; an off-cut from a ’00s network show where cheesy hijinks and flimsy jokes hung on basic miscommunication were all the rage. His smarmy white guy schtick is the sort of one-note character that usually ends up being offed pretty quickly; instead the script hangs the whole movie on him, no matter how much more interesting the supporting cast become.
Like any one of the smorgasbord of classic slasher riffs we’re welcomed with, from a chunky Jason Voorhees-type in a welders mask, to Julian Richings’ deliciously barmy accountant (complete with sweatervest and 50s-style HRGs), who giggles his way through his statistically-structured kill routines. Or the very deliberately named Carrie: Amber Goldfarb’s grizzled, no-nonsense proto-Buffy. Vicious Fun has a string of proudly horror-riffic talent at its finger-tips, but a script that seems to favour only one, and leaves the rest for dust, often dropping their clever MOs or having them slink into the background to focus on even more tired American sitcom humour.
Which is a crying shame given director Cody Calahan’s gift for proudly OTT action on a budget. We’re talking buckets of goo and all-too-realistic latex, that make for plenty of gross-out laughs. And always at the centre of a well-choreographed fight scene too, doled out at regular intervals to supercharge the film, just when the latest plot twist starts to tap the story dry.
And while the dicey character work makes it difficult to get as wrapped up in Vicious Fun as its bendy script so often wants, it’s really this constant, go-for-broke action that sells it. When Calahan and his team lean away from the broader comedy, and actually dig into the midnight-movie mould that the setting – and set-up – are so clearly fond of, vicious fun is indeed what we get. Everything else is a little too clunky for this throwback.
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