Flay is a sibling estrangement movie wrapped in horror
Dysfunctional family dynamics that result from drug addiction or other catalysts are nothing new. When the dysfunction itself is a catalyst for revenge murder of the living by the spirits of the dead you get the basic plot of Flay (2017, Phame Factory). At its core, Flay is the story of Moon Crane (Elle LaMont), a young woman who returns to her family home following the mysterious death of her artist mother Patricia (Peggy Schott). She finds that her younger brother River (Dalton E. Grey) still hates her for abandoning him and their mother in the face of their mother’s drug addiction.
River is not alone in his contempt for Moon. When she departed the family structure some seven years earlier, Moon also left behind her police officer boyfriend Tyler (Johnny Walter) without officially breaking off their relationship. Tyler is now a police officer who is aiding the investigation into her mother’s death (and is apparently a surrogate mother to fellow officers whose dialogue and behavior toward Moon make them appear to be just out of middle school).
Patricia Crane’s death is at first assumed to be a result of her drug addiction. However, we already know there’s more to it than that by this point in the film because we’ve seen Patricia steal some old chain links from the family friend and neighbor Billy Salcedo (A. Michael Baldwin), who runs a local antique business. It’s a bit unclear why she feels the need to take the objects. Patricia does not sell them for drugs. Instead, she uses them as objects in her artwork. We also get the sense that there’s something supernatural attached to the objects because we can see a pulsing aura surrounding them whenever someone touches them.
As all these elements from Moon’s past gather for her mother’s wake and funeral, more strange things start to happen. People close to the Crane family are suddenly dying in a fashion similar to Moon’s mother, and police are beginning to think that the evidence points to River. The stolen chain links appear to be connected to each of the deaths, somehow ending up in the proximity or jewelry of other people related to the Crane family.
On the surface, Flay is an intriguing story. The only problem is that it never delves much below the surface. We know the characters have issues with each other, but we never know enough about those issues to empathize with any of them. In spite of the professional cast, this lack of depth also feels true when it comes to the acting. None of the characters seem genuinely moved by anything said or done by another character. The only exception to this is Moon and Tyler, whose interactions come off far more believable than the friction we’re supposed to feel between Moon and River, or the friendship between Moon and Billy Salcedo. In fact, for his part, the Billy Salcedo character’s role in the story is far too ambiguous, as are River’s small group of lay-about friends. They all come off as entirely inconsequential to the tale.
In terms of story concept, cinematography, and sound, Flay is a winner. Where it falls flat is in the execution of the story, motivations for its cast, and believability. There are two pre-credits openings: one pre-title and one pre-credits, each set in a different time and telling what at first look like unconnected stories. The pre-title scene is set in the past and attempts to fill in some backstory for the horror component of the film. The pre-credits scene is set in the present and establishes the modern characters and circumstances that play out over the film’s runtime. It might have been more interesting to save the pre-title scene for a flashback so that the role of the chain links becomes clear as the characters start to put things together.
The pulling together of the facts that eventually determine what Moon needs to do to put a stop to the murders is specious. The conclusions Moon and Tyler draw to advance the story often do not feel like conclusions one could draw based on the evidence with which we know the characters have been presented. Often the revelations come without any real connections other than Moon’s feelings. It’s the same as looking at a circle drawn on a piece of paper and a ring of clouds in the sky and from that forming the assumption that God is a doughnut.
Flay is written by Matthew Daley and directed by Eric Pham. However, it is LaMont alone that makes this movie watchable. If you can forgive the lack of depth and motivation given its characters, it is worth a watch. If you’re the type of viewer who requires top-notch suspension of disbelief, you’ll want to pass on this one.
Flay is scheduled for a digital release in March.