★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Alexandra Spieth.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — comedy is a difficult task that’s made all the more difficult when it gets mixed up with its gory cousin, HORROR. To see it done well is one of the more pleasant sites that a horror fan gets to ever see.
In the new film, Stag, by quadruple threat (actress, writer, director, and producer) Alexandra Spieth marries these two ugly cousins together perfectly — ironically in the context of a weekend bridal party.
The film follows the exceptionally cast and equally well-acted Mary Glen Fredrick as Jenny. It turns out Mary Glen is a Toni Collette doppelgänger with wonderful comedic timing and a bottomless barrel of sly looks. Jenny serendipitously discovers that her BEST friend, who she’s now estranged from, Mandy (AKA Amanda (Elizabeth Ramos)) is getting married. Jenny decides to put her marginal telemarketing computer system to work and find her pal.
Jenny eventually finds her long-lost friend, but it’s clear that there’s a secret between the two of them. The kind of secret that might have darker underpinnings and help to rationalize their awful falling out. Jenny plays a hyper-awkward loner who’s an island unto herself in the middle of 8.3 million people. She’s longing for connection and Mandy begrudgingly extends an olive branch and invites Jenny to her bachelorette bash in upstate New York.
Stag, commonly associated with the grossest male rites, turns the concept on its head by mind-melding Bridesmaids with Midsommar and Get Out. There are nods to all, but each nod is done in a thoughtful, but more importantly, hysterical way. After all, it is Ari Aster that considers Midsommar to be a comedy. The gags in Stag are too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say, every single scene has a gag that will make you howl.
The film perfectly threads the “this doesn’t seem right” needle perfectly and subtly. Each character that’s introduced and each situation that Jenny is faced with has a deeply suspicious subtext. Jenny makes a conscious decision to make amends with her best friend and she’s careful to not rock the boat or offend her friend or the gracious weekend hosts, sisters Constance (Katie Wieland) and Casey (Stephanie Hogan).
Constance and Casey, as well as their grizzled groundskeeper Devon (Daniel Boyd), are played with knockout laughs. There’s no telling how much of Stag was improvised, but there’s a definite feeling that some of the laughs are derived from Spieth just allowing the cast to let loose. While Constance and Casey steal the show as the handmaids-tale-uber-perfect-Christian-hosts, every single cast member holds their own in this comedy bouillabaisse. This is truly a case where each performance has the impact of rising all ships in total harmony.
Jenny is ultimately forced to deal with the true meaning of friendship, connecting with the outside world, weird and off-putting societal norms, and in a fascinating twist, the ability for the female story to be told — no matter how awful the circumstance. Stag brings a nice fresh voice to horror and that’s a good — nay — a great thing. Spieth definitely has an ear for comedy, but she also understands how to construct a film that is full of scares and uneasy tension.
Stag was playing at the Portland Horror Film Festival, and is likely going to be Rated R for language, raunchy humor, and violence. It is currently working its way through the festival circuit.