CINEMA

STAG (2023)

MPAA: NR
Release Date: TBD 2023 [Festivals]

Genre: Horror

Studio: TBA

THE PREMISE:

"An urban loner seeks a second chance at redemption when she's invited to her estranged BFF's bachelorette party."

OUR MOVIE REVIEW:

Writer-Director Alexandra Spieth’s feature length debut is a simple horror drama that does more right than it does wrong. The film follows Jenny (Mary Glen Fredrick), a city girl who isn’t where she thought she would be at 30, and her attempts to reconnect with Mandy (Elizabeth Ramos) through a bachelorette party at a seemingly haunted campground. At 92 minutes long, this is a brisk thriller that will entertain, even if it’s a fairly generic film with some consistent drawbacks.

 

What sets Stag apart from the rest of the crowd is its great performances from smaller actors and actresses. Mary Glen Fredrick is the emotional anchor for the film, and her socially anxious performance keeps us engaged with her plights. Fredrick’s performance juxtaposes with the rest of the cast exceptionally, as they all embrace the camp at the centre of their characters. Daniel Boyd, Liana Hunt and Stephanie Hogan all dive into the off-kilter nature of their characters, through distinct ticks that keep interactions tense. For Boyd, that’s changing the speaking cadence. For Hunt, that manifests as a passive aggressiveness that comes from nowhere. And for Hogan, it’s in sudden appearances and creepy grins. The work of Safiya Harris and Katie Wieland play into this as well, with each of these characters being uniquely one dimensional. Constance (Wieland) is constantly flirtatious and flamboyant, and seems out of place amidst the rest of the party. Leslie (Harris) by comparison seems the most absent minded, and it keeps us on our toes as we try to find out who each of these people are. That starts at the writing level, and Spieth has shown herself to be capable of using these distinct personalities to create uncertainty. 

 

However, for as competent as the character work is, the core of the writing is generic and lacking depth. Much of the horror is explained by the end of the film, but it seems to be built off of cliches and horror tropes. Stag dives into a lot of dark places with it’s themes of sexual abuse, lonliness, personal unfullfillment and religious terrorism. But those ideas are often left largely unexplored, only brought up in the final 20 minutes of the film. The script is lacking the substance to truly launch it into the next level of filmmaking, and that is a shame considering the timely nature of those topics.


The other major drawback for Stag is its editing and cinematography. Fundamentally, the lighting of most outdoor sequences leave a lot to be desired. It’s noticeable that Stag was shot on location, due to the sunlight that permeates any outdoor sequence, but it has the adverse effect of bleaching out the contrast of those scenes. During the day, shadows are non-existent, and it just doesn’t work. Adding to this is the editing, which feels fundamentally out of sync with much of the film. There are a fair number of moments in which Jeanette Bears’ work comes through beautifully, typically when the physical beats of the story begin to accelerate. Her usage of intercutting and jump cuts displays a lot of talent, and when complemented by Adam Kromelow and Daniel Rufolo’s score, it turns the heat up to eleven. But during the simple dialogue sequences, it often feels out of place, holding on shots for a touch too long in ways that undercut the tension of the scene. It’s consistently inconsistent, which holds Stag back.

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OUR VERDICT: