★★★★ out of ★★★★★
How far will a pious man of the cloth go to help those in need? How far will he be pushed before things get insane? Christmas-set horror (uncomfortable) comedy The Leech has these answers, and it is an absolutely riveting, discomfiting experience.
Directed by Eric Pennycoff
Combining escalating uncomfortable dark humor with a mind-blowing, outrageous third act of psychological horror, writer/director Eric Pennycoff’s The Leech is a scorcher. Pennycoff and his ensemble cast all come with terrific fear-fare credentials, making the film a highly recommended watch.
Graham Skipper (star of Almost Human and Beyond the Gates and writer/director of Sequence Break) stars as Father David, a mild-mannered priest whose congregation seems very small. He is devout and dedicated to helping those less fortunate, so when he encounters homeless man Terry (Jeremy Gardner, director of The Battery and codirector of After Midnight, and star of both of those films), he invites him to spend the night at his home. Terry is not the most polite house guest, and when he invites his girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke of After Midnight, and also Gardner’s wife in real life) to crash there too — with a request to Father David that they stay there through Christmas — the pious host reluctantly agrees, especially because he thinks it was Lexi who told him in the confessional that she is pregnant with her no-account significant other’s baby.
Things go from bad to worse as Father David’s house guests take advantage of the situation, and despite church keyboardist Rigo’s (Rigo Garay, who has worked behind the camera in different positions on Depraved and The Stakelander) reservations about the situation, the priest does his best to convert the uninterested couple to the faith. What Father David doesn’t expect is that a drinking game that he reluctantly plays with the pair will turn his world upside down.
Pennycoff, who wrote and directed Sadistic Intentions — which also starred Gardner and Zaudtke — has crafted an unsettling work that is sure to offend certain viewers while delighting others. He doesn’t shy away from uneasy, distressing situations, and handles both the horror-adjacent and outright horror elements with equal gusto.
The cast is terrific, with Skipper nailing every subtle nuance of his character’s descent into horrific hell marvelously, and Gardner and Zaudtke perfectly playing hedonistic foils. Garay’s supporting role is an important one as Father David’s voice of reason.
Christmas-set horror and horror comedy films are plentiful, but few are as jarring as The Leech. It’s not one for the whole family, but if there are holiday guests you want to blow the minds of — or in some cases, get rid of — you’ll be hard pressed to find a film in those subgenres that will do a better job.
Review by Joseph Perry
The Leech screened as part of Chattanooga Film Festival, which took place online June 23–28, 2022. For more information, visit https://www.chattfilmfest.org/.
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