★★★ out of ★★★★★
An oddly touching movie about family, loneliness, depression, and a creepy man who can swallow people whole.
Written/directed by Skye Braband
Jackson [Christy St. John; TV’s In The Cut (2020)] is a 20-something young woman going through a hard time in her life. Estranged from her family, flat broke, and depressed, the movie opens on her suicide note followed by her poorly executed end-of-life attempt (RIP valiant ceiling fan).
Taking that as a sign, Jackson decides to finally get in contact with her biological father — who doesn’t even know she exists — because why not? Everything else has gone wrong today already. She calls Sam [Steve Marvel; Voices on Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (2013)] out of the blue and, to his credit, he handles it about as well as he could. They agree to meet in a nearby public park and it goes about as well as you’d think for a married-but-childless man meeting his surprise adult daughter from a girlfriend he’d had in college 20-some-odd years ago.
As father and daughter muddle their way through their awkward first meeting, an odd little man on the other side of the street stretches open his mouth ridiculously wide and swallows a 10 year old girl whole.
Both Jackson and Sam witness this strange event and react appropriately when the big-mouthed man, “Chompy” [played by Reggie Koffman – voiced by genre favorite Udo Kier; Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)], starts coming for them. They get the hell outta there.
What follows is a periodically surreal, occasionally heart warming, often awkward night’s adventure. Jackson and Sam eventually run into the little girl again and learn that her name is Birch [Seneca Paliotta; Let Us In (2021)] and she’s slowly turning the people around her into exact replicas of herself. With the help of Jackson’s friend/dealer/occult “expert”, Lotus [Hari Williams; Voice work in Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (2017)], the group does their best to unravel the cosmic mystery. All while figuring out how father and daughter are going to weave their lives together.
As a movie with a one-of-a-kind 4-foot wide open mouth prosthetic (which was offered up as a donor award in their Seed & Spark funding campaign), the filmmakers behind Chompy & The Girls definitely scrimped and saved and spent some pennies where it counted. Not that it’s an SFX-heavy movie. The film employs some clever and comedically effective camera tricks as well as a bit of green screen and CGI, but the centerpiece is Chompy’s humongous gob.
Dialog is tight and feels natural throughout. From the cosmic weirdness to the uncertainties of relationships the script is well written and the characters stay true to themselves. Pacing suffers a bit in the third act, but overall things roll right along with much hilarity and some good tension.
Christy St. John’s performance and attitude carry the show. Her character, Jackson, is lonely, but independent. She’s fierce, but understandably freaked out by the guy with the ginormous mouth. And she does a great job showing all of this to the audience. With Steve Marvel easily following her lead as bio-dad, Sam, Chompy & The Girls couldn’t ask for a stronger leading duo.
Granted, the film may not be the scariest movie of 2021 and it’s for sure not the goriest, but Chompy & The Girls is certainly unsettling enough to fit into our favorite genre. It’s got its funny moments, its tense moments, and its WTF? moments. It was also made with a lot of heart and, in the end, that’s what really sets it apart.
Chompy & The Girls is available for streaming at all your favorite streaming places that cost money (e.g., not Netflix yet, sadly).
Review by Robert Zilbauer.