[CFF 2019 Review] Sadistic Intentions
There was a time when metal was dangerous. Where, to paraphrase the words of Sadistic Intentions’ Stu (Jeremy Gardner), rockers wouldn’t just wring a dead cat on stage for effect but would do it offstage just to…see what comes out both ends. A grisly picture, for sure, but when faced with movies like Lords of Chaos and some of the violent and disturbing stories that have floated around the metal scene in its heyday, it’s not too surprising. Now, though, the genre (as reviewed again by Stu) is basically full of posers. The people who know how to scream and yell and strut on stage, but don’t embody the truth about the musical genre. But that’s not Stu and Kevin’s (Michael Patrick Nicholson) band, Morbid Annihilation. Oh no. They are the real deal.
As if to fully embody that ethos, Sadistic Intentions begins with a bright, sunny day in a field of flowers where, off-screen, Kevin slaughters a man with a hammer. As the camera pans to the body, its head wrapped in a black trash bag, a man yells, “What have you done to my child?” The cold open fades into thrashy credits where images are intercut of Kevin hacksawing the body and a woman named Chloe (Taylor Zaudtke) looking at her fish while writing about her future plans to go to university in the Bahamas. It’s a striking juxtaposition that establishes the tone and uneasiness ahead.
As she contemplates the pros and cons of going to the Bahamas to study, Kevin calls her from a new number than she’s used to seeing. He’s her weed dealer and he has a proposition for her. Kevin’s friend is in town and he needs to unload a bunch of weed before he has to fly back home. Kevin wants her to front half of it because it’s a great deal and they both can make money from it. Even though it’s late, the idea is tempting because Chloe wants to escape her town and studying in the Bahamas offers up so many opportunities. But it comes with one large con: it’s expensive and she has “No fucking money.” So against her better judgment, she decides to travel to his house…out in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of a tornado watch.
When she arrives at her destination, it turns out to be a manor that screams Southern Gothic realness. Helping the ambiance, a storm rumbles ominously in the distance and the house seems empty, except for Kevin’s bandmate Stu who believes he’s there to practice. Realizing the situation is flashing stranger danger lights, she decides to go but as she gets to her car, Kevin calls her, apologizes and says he’ll only be twenty minutes. Again, against her better judgment, Chloe stays and decides to make the most of the time by getting to know Stu. Except we know that Kevin is already there. We hear him breathing. He’s hiding in the house. Waiting. But for what? And why?
Sadistic Intentions surprised me. With a name like that and the brief synopsis I found online, I was afraid it’d be another trashy exploitation flick that would focus on a woman being tortured or worse. But that is not what I got. Instead, writer/director Eric Pennycoff completely flips expectations and, if it weren’t for the foreboding storm brewing in the background and the heavy breathing that would give Black Christmas’s Billy a run for his money, you’d think we were watching a romance.
It’s the classic “opposites attract” romantic meet cute. Chloe loves weed because it helps mellow her out, while Stu hates it because it does the exact opposite. His head is full of dark thoughts, which he scribbles down in his notebook as potential lyrics, and the weed amplifies those thoughts. He also obviously loves metal music, while Chloe wants a song she can dance to. She has a bright future ahead of her, with plans to go to college and study marine life. Stu is stuck in the past, both in terms of his life and his idea of what metal music used to be.
In a way, Stu is the ultimate poser. He writes dark lyrics but like the posers he lashes out at, he doesn’t seem able to go those dark lengths he waxes (un)poetic about. Their band doesn’t even have a drummer; they use sampling and drum machines which is…so not metal, man. While Sadistic Intentions hints at some of the insanity to come, you also get the feeling that Stu is in way over his head with what he thinks he wants and what he actually does want. When the third act hits and the movie goes off the rails, Stu is just as caught off-guard by the realness happening around him as the unassuming Chloe is.
Because Sadistic Intentions is basically three actors in one location, it lives and dies on the acting and writing. Thankfully, the cast is up to the task. Jeremy Gardner and Michael Patrick Nicholson are known quantities for me and are always enjoyable to watch. This happens to be the third movie I’ve seen this week with Jeremy in it and he, again, brings charm and wit to his role that makes you kind of root for his slightly off-kilter character. Michael wowed and creeped me out with last year’s Are We Not Cats and he brings an insane zaniness-verging-into-camp to his role as Kevin.
But the surprise was Taylor Zaudtke (also in Fingers), who was a complete joy to watch. Her bright eyes twinkle with intelligence and mischievousness and she brings a completely different and important dynamic to the trio of characters. Honestly, her performance wowed me. Much like Brea Grants’ performance in Something Else, Taylor’s performance radiates warmth, but is tempered with an almost cynical coldness. She carries the film, honestly. Particularly as the power dynamics start to shift in the third act when the insanity is really unleashed. It kept me on my toes, all the way up to the last shot that brought a devilish grin to my face.
Seems like a perfect way to end my Chattanooga Film Festival coverage. Keep an eye on this one.