★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Erik Boccio
First off, Night of the Bastard is fun. Stupid fun. Be ready for a low-budget B-Movie brawler of a picture. The film has a fun overall story and features a terrific twist, but it could have used a dialogue upgrade both from the script and from the stiff deliveries of that script. But assuredly, you will be entertained. It is certainly inspired by 70s-era grindhouse fare, tapping into Satanic cult tropes and road trip desert horror, it has a classic feel about it.
The opening scene sets the table pretty nicely. A young expectant couple goes out into the California desert to hang around with the young man’s uncle, who wants to celebrate the birth of the baby. But unbeknownst to the nephew, his uncle is in a Satanic Death Cult, and they want the baby! Oh the horror! Cue the sacrificial ritual and prepare for…
A flash forward of forty years, where we are introduced to our protagonist, Reed (London May) a reclusive loner in a ramshackle trailer home in what you expect is roughly the same neighborhood as the opening ritual. Reed is a bit of a hot mess, but that’s alright since he keeps only a turtle for company, and spends much of his days inebriated on his homemade mead.
A trio of young campers has set up their tents in a remote part of his property. Pete (Cesar Cipriano), Kiera (Mya Hudson), and George (Philip Rossi) are looking just to find a remote spot to get high and drunk, but are unaware that they are on private property. Reed shows up with a shotgun and kicks them off his land, forcing the trio to find a new spot to set up. And, then they stumble into a Satanic Ritual.
Rather than do the sane thing, and avoid the ritual, they get lured in because the busty high priestess, Claire (Hannah Pierce) is scantily clad in a sexy gown so the boys can’t help but check it out. Bad move. Things don’t go well. Sacrifices are made and Kiera scrambles back from whence they came, and she staggers into Reed’s trailer. Reed is none too happy that he has one of the punk trespassers bloodily fumbling their way to his trailer, but he reluctantly takes Keira in, with the cultists in hot pursuit.
The movie then settles in. This becomes a siege movie. Reed and Kiera become “enemy of my enemy” besties, and work to fend off the marauders, who have sinister designs for both of them. The moon and stars are right, and a ritual needs to be performed before the night is done.
So, Night of the Bastard has a familiar and rather entertaining plot. The acting is rather rough. There is a lot of yelling and preening, and nobody really acts rationally in the movie. You don’t really bond with any of the characters until about the halfway mark in the movie, but once the protagonists and antagonists are firmly established, you do eventually get attached to Reed and Keira.
The logistics of the siege often fail to convince, as the cultists are pretty inept at coming up with a plan, and the wounded protagonists often loudly discuss their strategy for any cultist who may be alertly paying attention to hear. The villains also really boil down to caricature baddies. They cackle wickedly and grimace and gesture threateningly, while Claire floods the scenes with exposition. Man does she like to give speeches.
The plus side of the exposition is that we do get a very good sense of what the cult is up to. And, the name of the title is earned, in a wonderfully twisted turn. There is a sexy/cringy big moment at the climax of the movie that puts its mark on this film. It actually works, while being very wrong in a very icky way. You can’t not watch the moment, it is nasty and is very much in keeping with the movie.
Night of the Bastards is pure B-movie fare, and proudly so. The poster pretty much announces that. The acting is over-the-top, bordering on ridiculous, with every actor trying to chew up the screen when they have the chance. The characters needed some strategic coaching. The cultists did not take advantage of their superior numbers and the defenders did not take advantage of their superior defensive position. In a way, all the characters manage to stumble together and made a mess of things.
Also, in a clear nod to the Baccio wanting a big concluding brawl, there are moments where, again, both the heroes and the villains make inexplicably odd decisions that allow the film to end mano-e-mano when each side had a moment to be able to finish the other off. Plus, the fight choreography was a little sloppy, and often degenerated into grappling with haymakers. Back to battle tactics 101 for the whole lot of you!
The production value of the film was pretty good for a micro-budget film, particularly one shot largely at night. The lighting and camera work was efficient and well done within the darkness of the frame. For a film shot largely with a hand-held camera, it never felt like a shaky-cam-found-footage film. Eric Baccio is fond of lots of quick cuts, but you never get lost in his visual storytelling. The gore is well-executed and nasty. This is Baccio’s first feature film, and it is also the largest film vehicle for all of the actors involved, so it is understandably rough around the edges.
If you prefer a strong character deep dive, with a dramatic and nuanced allegorical story, look elsewhere. For an evening on the couch, looking for a fun B-movie film, with a bit of gore and a bit of sexy, (but not too much of either) this would fit the bill.
Night of the Bastard is not rated, but certainly would be rated R for gore, violence, nudity, sexual situations, and language. (A four-corner R-Rated film!) The depravity is somewhat limited though, and it won’t leave any emotional scarring for mature teens. Night of the Bastard will screen tonight (12/8/22) at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco. You can also catch this streaming on their Eventive platform.