‘Faceless After Dark’ Review – ‘Terrifier’ Star Jenna Kanell Slashes Toxic Fandom in Meta Horror Movie

In the wake of Terrifier‘s breakout success, star Jenna Kanell has gone on to book supporting roles in the likes of Renfield, WandaVision, The Bye Bye Man, and NCIS: New Orleans — but Art the Clown casts a long shadow. Kanell reconciles her unconventional journey while holding a mirror up to the industry in Faceless After Dark, which she co-wrote with Todd Jacobs for director Raymond Wood, both frequent collaborators.

Kanell stars as Bowie Davidson, an actress struggling to break out from the shackles of B-horror after starring in a killer clown movie. She’s no stranger to fandom — peddling herself at conventions, recording Cameo videos, combating social media harassment — but when an obsessive fanatic in a clown mask breaks into her house, Bowie assumes the role of the final girl to fight back against her oppressors.

The home invasion is ostensibly propelling toward a tense game of cat-and-mouse between Bowie and her stalker, but the plot instead swerves in an unexpected direction. Faceless After Dark ultimately lands alongside such works as Gone Girl, Midsommar, and Promising Young Woman in the “good for her” genus of movies in which women take back their autonomy on their own terms. While context varies, the protagonists’ unhinged behaviors may not be wholly justifiable, yet catharsis can be found in the perverse fantasy fulfillment.

It’s unfair to judge a movie based on what you want it to be rather than what it sets out to do, but I struggled to fully invest in Faceless After Dark‘s empowering revenge tale after its cleverly meta setup — reminiscent of New Nightmare but more grounded in reality — was abandoned. Rather than a calculated subversion akin to From Dusk Till Dawn or Barbarian, Faceless After Dark‘s narrative shift feels like two disparate concepts indiscriminately forced together.

To assuage the tonal whiplash, the film’s style subtly evolves as the story unfolds; its visual palette becomes more refined while the soundtrack progresses from scrappy punk to pulsating electronic to elegant opera. Wood assaults the viewers’ senses to illustrate Bowie’s anxieties at key moments, and impressionistic editing techniques are employed to further convey the character’s overwhelmed psyche.

Kanell made a good showing in Terrifier, but like all other aspects of that film, she was overshadowed by Art the Clown and the splattery special effects. Here, she’s given free range to shine with a raw performance. Between the script and her role, Kanell crafts a vitriolic, self-reflexive outing that addresses toxic fandom, parasocial relationships, cyberbullying, media consumption, and mental illness all while satirizing the horror genre.

Those who decry Terrifier as misogynistic will likely appreciate Faceless After Dark‘s cerebral, feminist approach to the material. Kanell by no means shows contempt for her horror roots (Terrifier director Damien Leone receives a “special thanks” credit, and co-star Catherine Corcoran appears in the film); rather, she draws from personal experiences to provide an honest, if heightened, portrayal of modern life under a microscope.

Faceless After Dark played at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. It’s due out later this year via MPI/Dark Sky Films.

3 skulls out of 5

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