Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Eric T. Pham
Writer: Matthew Daley
Producer: Kris Pham, Eric Pham
Stars: Elle LaMont, Johnny Walter, Dalton Gray, Violett Beane, Peggy Schott, Jordan Leuvoy, Aaron Spivey-Sorrells, Noe de la Garza, Kaylee King, Rick Delgado, A. Michael Baldwin
Chains cursed by an enslaved Native American shaman haunt troubled siblings following their mother’s mysterious death.
Previously titled “Slender” when it finished filming in 2015, “Flay” mixes murky mythology from a clunky cocktail of Native American folklore, Asian ghost stories, and urban legend creepypastas for a tepid terror tale involving… haunted chains? “Flay” earns one point for originality. Even in three seasons of “Friday the 13th: The Series,” which featured everything from cursed comic books and quilts to hearing aids and pool cues, I don’t recall ever seeing haunted chains in horror before.
These particular chains were used to torturously enslave a Native American medicine man who cursed the links so that his vengeful spirit could kill anyone who touched them. That’s what happens when an artistic mother tries incorporating the iron into her latest painting. The supernatural shaman, now sporting a suit and Slenderman face for some weird reason, murders the mother, prompting a reunion for her estranged daughter Moon and Moon’s troubled teen brother River.
Also for vague reasons, everyone around Moon and River can’t stop touching the chains, even stealing them for additional arts and crafts projects. With Moon and River’s mother reappearing as a stringy-haired ghost for yet another unclear reason, the boogeyman known as ‘Flay’ now has new victims to punish for the victimless crime of daring to touch some old chains.
The movie’s marketing makes it known that director Eric Pham’s background as an FX artist includes work on several Robert Rodriguez films such as “Grindhouse” and “Sin City.” Now please believe me that when I say the following, it isn’t to be glibly disrespectful, but to make a genuinely curious observation.
Often when I see below-the-line journeymen, or whatever you want to call them, make their own movies after making a career on bigger productions, those films tend to squeeze more from their low budgets than peer projects do thanks to calling in favors from professional friends willing to throw a bone to a buddy. For instance, when “Game of Thrones” VFX supervisor Jabbar Raisani directed his small sci-fi debut “Alien Outpost” (review here), he tapped support from contacts with equally notable credits to do music, cinematography, etc. Not only did the FX predictably look good, but Raisani likely got a good deal of experienced talent for rates below what it would have cost if he didn’t have industry connections.
Sadly, it appears Eric Pham may not know as many people of comparable caliber, because “Flay” frankly looks awful. You’d think the visual effects would at least look good given Pham’s résumé, but they don’t. Like when the chain links create little paranormal vortexes, they’re visualized as simple After Effects-esque swirls that don’t even cast a three-dimensional illusion. Digital FX might be among the movie’s reddest sore thumbs, although there is heavy competition at the top of that list.
I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that D.P. Gary Tachell has dozens of camera operator credits on TV series like “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Criminal Minds,” and “The Orville,” yet he gives an impression that he doesn’t know how to shoot a person through glass without glare completely obscuring the face. Maybe the production didn’t have enough setup time either, but it seems as though the crew left the lighting and grip rental houses with the cheapest equipment packages available. Either that or they chose to leave flags and stands on the truck while they carelessly winged it instead.
Pitch blackness fills as much as 100% of the frame during dark scenes. A milky, washed out tone flattens a lot of imagery, possibly from an underexposed lens whose brightness was pumped up in post. Windows never have filters, so when the camera sees outside from an interior setup, it looks like a solar flare is burning white-hot.
This isn’t complex stuff. These are basic technical i’s and t’s that aren’t being dotted or crossed.
Editing has no rhyme or reason to its rhythm. Transitions alternate between dissolves, wipes, fading to black, suddenly slowing motion, or cutting to random close-ups like a doorknob that isn’t being turned. I rewound several sequences a handful of times, trying to guess why certain decisions were made in the editing room. I’ll give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt that they thought their choices through, but I’ll be damned if I can deduce what those thoughts were.
I’m truly sorry to say this, because I have no desire to insult the efforts of the people who made the movie. But there is no objectively ignoring the notion that “Flay” gives off the unflattering air of an amateur cheapie.
The haunted chains are the thin kind a kid uses to lock up a bike. An antique dealer’s shop resembles a pitiful garage sale. A restaurant scene seems to have been shot in another room of the main house, redressed with curtains stapled over doorframes and Christmas lights haphazardly hanging from the ceiling. It doesn’t even look as good as a Denny’s, and you can still see a TV mounted on one wall.
A detective twice mentions being reminded of a case “from 20 years ago,” with one instance comically accompanied by ominous music highlighting the already obvious clue. Yet when he pulls the evidence, the date on the file reads 1981. Unless “Flay” takes place in 2001, the detective really has his years mixed up.
In another scene, “Phantasm’s” A. Michael Baldwin, who has only three brief appearances, brings Moon a small Tupperware dish. While eating the food alone later, Moon remarks, “this is ridiculous … mmm!” with a smile, which I took to mean “ridiculously good.” Except all she is eating is a rolled up tortilla so small that her hand nearly obscures it.
We’re obviously talking about bare minimum details. But it also takes bare minimum effort to write a consistent date on a prop or wrap a tortilla around something that reads as remotely realistic.
Acting feels forcibly staged from the start. The boy playing Moon’s brother shouts like he is at home plate in Dodger Stadium making sure someone in the bleachers can hear him. His Dawson Leery ugly cry could similarly stand to be dialed back by 75%. Not that performances stand a chance of being believable when wrapped around dry dialogue exchanges like this:
“I need to talk to you.”
“I’m right here.”
“My friends can hear what you have to say.”
“Don’t act tough around them.”
“I’m not acting.”
“Maybe you should.”
“Like an adult!”
Seeing as I’ve spent over 1,000 words raking “Flay” over the coals, now is a good time to reiterate that I don’t believe anyone involved had anything other than sincere intentions of making a worthwhile supernatural spooker. But “Flay” puts nearly no professional polish on anything. It isn’t engaging. It isn’t credible. The mild mix of Slender Man with “The Ring” with a Native American backdrop makes no practical sense. I can’t find a way to beat around the bush without straightly saying, “Flay” simply isn’t executed well at all.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 25