CFF Review: Eric Pennycoff’s Horror Romp ‘The Leech’ Jingles Timely Bells
Never has there ever been a holiday film quite like Eric Pennycoff’s The Leech, which pits the holy against the hellish for a thematically strong, rapid-fire descent into festive madness. The film opens with a crawl up the steps of an aging and nearly empty church where Father David (Graham Skipper of Sequence Break and Dementia: Part II putting in his best performance to date) delivers a heartfelt sermon about acceptance to an audience of few. After bidding farewells to the congregation, he discovers a man sleeping in one of the pews. Father David is presented with a test of his faith when he learns that this man, who introduces himself as Terry (another fully committed performance by Jeremy Gardner of The Battery and After Midnight), is stranded without a ride. By the time they’ve made it to town it’s apparent that Terry won’t be going away anytime soon, and the pair end up at Father David’s house for a “one night stay” shortly after.
The personality clash begins on the first night when Terry awakes David with loud metal music and the smell of cigarette smoke, escalating over the next 24 hours into Terry sneaking his pregnant girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Gardner of Sadistic Intentions committing just as hard or harder than her husband) into the house in the middle of the night. The next morning after bribing David with breakfast they ask to stay through Christmas, but they’re “not trying to leech” so they promise to help out around the house. David’s apprentice and part-time religious rapper Rigo (Rigo Garay in his debut feature film role), is immediately wary of the two strangers but David just keeps quoting the bible when he expresses this concern. As the days progress it becomes clear they’re performing an all-out power grab on every faucet of David’s life, slowly but steadily increasing their intensity as they become comfortable in their new home. David starts losing sight of his once devout faith as growing resentment for his new housemates’ lifestyle coupled with a lust for control begin consuming him, leading to an absurd (seriously, I’ve never seen THIS done with human ashes before) and shocking final act that boasts a powerful, almost scarily timely message.
The shift in the characters’ moods across the narrative is made entirely believable by the strong performances from the three leads, but cleverly supported by a parallel shift in camera movement and a progressively changing score. To put this into perspective the whole opening portion of the film is backed by traditional holiday music that’s almost comically Hallmark in a way that feels fully intentional, whereas by the back half of the film menacing festive riffs and haunting versions of holiday melodies have completely taken over. In addition, the cinematography is comprised of a lot of slower, longer takes at the start which morph into snappy, responsive shots by the end. Mirroring the tone of the story in almost every capacity like this makes it especially easy for viewers to feel immersed in this batshit crazy ride, allowing the finale to be all the more effective by the time it comes. Fans of holiday horror comedies should most definitely deck their halls for The Leech, as it’s set to be released this December by Arrow Films both physically and digitally.