Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Kenny Gage, Devon Downs
Writer: Kenny Gage, Devon Downs
Producer: Andrew Pagana, Brett Donowho, Bill Ceresia, Todd Slater, Thomas Mahoney
Stars: Robert LaSardo, Jordan James Smith, Sara Fabel, Ben Whalen, Claire Garvey, Anthony Del Negro, Beth Humphreys, Joey Fisher, Tiffany DeMarco
Six college friends vacationing in Lithuania learn that a mysterious artist conducts a sinister second business in the basement of his tattoo parlor.
There is a scene in “Anarchy Parlor” where Robert LaSardo’s tattoo artist character laments how body art no longer represents countercultural individuality. As ink shops multiplied on beachfronts, downtown hotspots, and trendy social centers, and tattoos became commonplace among college kids, housewives, and tourists, what once symbolized a statement against societal conventions became an ironic branding of populist conformity.
It’s an apt metaphor for the decline of contemporary horror films, as well as how what producers perceive as solid scary movie components are now overused clichés in need of laser treatment eradication. Hard-partying college friends traipsing somewhere they shouldn’t are butterfly tattoos on the nape of the neck. One at a time kills in Eli Roth fashion are dolphins on an ankle. Dumb behavior and even dumber dialogue about that behavior are lower back tramp stamps. And “Anarchy Parlor” is the misguided sorority girl inking her body as above, thinking she is shocking daddy and making herself more attractive, when all she is really doing is mirroring every other bubble-headed princess that no one pays attention to.
Amy, Jesse, Brock, and three other friends whose names don’t matter take a club-hopping, shot-gulping, pre-university holiday in Vilnius, Lithuania. Because what twentysomething doesn’t have Lithuania at the top of the list when it comes to sex, alcohol, and partying in an exotic European locale?
Brock meets a Lithuanian Suicide Girl named Uta who works as a local tattoo artist’s apprentice. Amy really wants a tattoo to commemorate her trip, something “culturally significant,” so she and Brock say adieu to the others and follow Uta down an unlit alleyway that Count Dracula would be afraid to walk after dark. Little known fact: following a stranger into an unknown location without anyone knowing where you are is Trip Advisor’s #1 tip for tourists traveling in foreign countries.
At the end of that alleyway stands a curious shop where “The Artist” inks human skin in the parlor, and flays it in the dungeon downstairs. Once captured, Amy and Brock become the first pawns. It is only a matter of time before the others conduct a search and find themselves chained, restrained, and carved alongside their friends as part of The Artist’s plan for creating unique works of art.
The audience for the film’s Screamfest premiere laughed so loudly and so routinely at the unintentional hilarity of the script that someone standing in the lobby might have presumed a Chris Rock concert was taking place behind the theater doors. Disposable dialogue includes repeated use of lines such as, “stop, please,” “you’re sick,” “let us go,” and “why are you doing this?” The thought here isn’t that the tension is amplified or the characters are advanced meaningfully. It is that this is what everyone says in every other torture horror movie, so it may as well be included here, too. That mindset continues as a theme throughout the movie’s duration.
The highlight of “Anarchy Parlor” is Edd Lukas’ cinematography. His style has visibly progressed throughout his work on the films of Brett Donowho, who is one of the producers here, and the cold blue interiors and overcast beige exteriors give “Anarchy Parlor” a mood-perfect look. Then someone decides to snap any atmospheric illusion by adding gratuitous digital blood dripping in impossible rivulets and exploding in physics-defying sprays.
Nothing looks more out of place than the skin canvas portraits, however. The hook of The Artist’s kidnapping and murder plot is that he uses skin peeled from the backs of his victims to paint portraits for the descendents in a line of wealthy sophisticates with terrible taste in art. From the overreactions on the actors’ faces, it is clear that these pieces are supposed to be on par with Rembrandt-like masterworks. In actuality, they look like garage sale throwaways painted by Aunt Suzie during week one of her Intro to Watercolors community college class. This is what all of these people are dying for?
Revealed in the post-premiere screening Q&A, co-directors/co-writers Devon Downs and Kenny Gage mentioned that the key to their collaboration is an “anything goes” mentality where instead of “no” to the proposal of any idea, the other person always says, “let’s try it.” That’s a problem. A collaborative partner should be a creative balance, not an indulgence enabler. And that is precisely how “Anarchy Parlor” builds itself into a basic horror movie without constructing a satisfying horror story.
Consider the elements that go into crafting a plot and drafting the beats making up that progression. When it comes to creativity and storytelling, do you think someone like Stephen King, as a popular example, ever says, “what this piece needs right now is a sex scene montage for an ancillary character” or plans a pause in the action featuring a lap dance in its entirety? Of course not.
But this is what happens when filmmakers use antiquated notions that went out of style in 1980s slashers as benchmarks for how to make a horror movie. Teenagers or twentysomethings making stupid decisions, like separating from the pack and investigating torch-lit dungeons alone. Pointless T&A and thong-clad asses for the easily titillated. Come from behind hands on the shoulder constituting lame jump scares. “Anarchy Parlor” is designed for perceived commercial appeal based on audience familiarity with unoriginal and out-of-touch tropes, which is insulting to fans expected to support something so routine as worthwhile genre entertainment.
NOTE: The film was previously titled "Parlor."
Review Score: 30