Starring: Elle LaMont, Dalton E. Gray, Violett Beane
Writer: Matthew Daley
Director: Eric Pham
Review by Darren Gaskell
*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
After the death of her mother Patricia, Moon Crane (Elle LaMont) returns to her home town to look after her teenage brother River (Dalton E. Gray) and to make sure all appropriate affairs are in order. Things don’t get off to the greatest of starts as River wants nothing to do with Moon and the circumstances surrounding her mum’s passing don’t appear to add up even though most of the townsfolk assume it’s a tragic consequence of a junkie’s lifestyle.
Moon is told by a trusted family friend that her mother was free from drugs but what she can’t know – unless she’s somehow watching this film, which she isn’t – is what happened in the movie a few minutes earlier, when Patricia acquired a chain at a local antiques store and succumbed soon afterwards to supernatural forces. You see, the chain is cursed, having been used in the torture and murder of a Native American many years before, and now all those in the vicinity of the chain are in danger.
Decent set up? Yes. Serviceable plot? Yes. Good movie? Well…
In terms of introducing a new kind of horror threat Flay does work a little better than something like Slender Man. However, if you’ve seen Slender Man you’ll appreciate what a mess that movie turned out to be. Flay isn’t anywhere near as disastrous a misfire but the suspense doesn’t build sufficiently and the legend isn’t fleshed out enough for the viewer to become particularly invested in the proceedings.
Without going too much into the kills, the enabler of the mayhem here is water – or liquid of some type. This is an interesting idea but limiting in terms of where the menace can appear to wreak havoc. In order to up the body count, you’re presented with characters who are clumsy even by horror movie standards as they spill alcohol, milk and nail polish remover and are then attacked as they attempt to mop up the mess (or take a picture of it in one case – those kids and their phones!).
To be fair, not everyone here is a total butterfingers but what those people possess in terms of safe hands they lose in terms of common sense, deciding it would be a good idea to look behind that shower curtain to check if that noise they heard really was a vengeful, murderous spirit when what they should be doing is getting the hell out of there as quickly as humanly possible.
Flay has its fair share of angry characters. The first cop Moon meets on her dead mother’s property is pretty angry (and a creepy sex pest to boot). River is extremely angry, but that’s with good reason – the guy found his mum dead and now the sister he really doesn’t get on with has showed up. The Driver’s Ed teacher at the high school is short of fuse to begin with and only gets more riled up when his pupils call him out on his own perceived level of authority. Patience is not a virtue where these people are concerned.
River’s teen friends are of the type who smoke pot, drink booze, crack wise and think they’re oh so cool. In short, they’re really bloody annoying and I was thinking that Moon might off them all before the spectral baddie got to have a crack at them. No such luck here, they clutter up the proceedings until well over an hour in and then they’re bloodlessly dispatched to be found face down in a puddle of whatever they were gazing into at the time.
Yes, I have to mention the kills at this point. If you’re looking for blood and guts this ain’t the place to find them. The victims in Flay meet their maker in more or less the same way – supernatural entity appears, they scream, then the scene cuts away. Personally, I’m fine with films that don’t wallow in carnage and it can be a nice touch when a horror film shows restraint in this department but here the action is a tad repetitive and I’d have liked there to be a splash of the old claret if only to take the viewer by surprise.
Some of the supporting performances are a touch wobbly but the main cast does a decent job on the whole. Elle LaMont is engaging as the no-nonsense Moon, she’s easily the one you want to see make it to the end credits. Anyone who’s seen Truth Or Dare (the 2018 teen horror flick rather than the Jessica Cameron movie which is a totally different proposition) may recognise Violett Beane as River’s rebellious girlfriend.
It may come in at just under 94 minutes but Flay feels longer, spending too much time on relationship subplots while leaving its central ideas frustratingly underdeveloped. The opening sequence is intriguing but the promise of those first few minutes is never fully realised and in the end it turns out to be something of a plod. Another issue is the eventual aquatic showdown which is murkily staged, draining the climax of real excitement.
The technical expertise of the film-makers is clear to see but sadly the chills are too mechanical to make much of an impact. Married to a snappier story and a deeper mythology this could have been so much more but unfortunately I’m a little irked at what might have been.