Sunday, 16 August 2020

Serena Waits (2018) - Horror Film Review

Serena Waits is a revenge horror with a difference, mainly that the focus of the movie is on the perpetrators of a crime rather than the victim. It was directed by Hunter Johnson (Irrational Fear) and I was pleased to see a few actors I recognised and whose performances I had previously enjoyed. There were some elements here that I didn't think worked as well as others, but this was still an entertaining movie that felt suited to the '#metoo' era.

Frat boys, Miles (David Wesley Marlowe - For Jennifer) and Jack (Colton Wheeler - Ugly Sweater Party) are on their way home one dark summer night when they bump into a very drunk girl, Serena (Brialynn Massie). Taking advantage of her state they convince her to come back to their house. Once there things quickly get out of control and in the heat of the moment it seems Jack has killed the girl. They call for their friend, Scott (Charles Chudabala - Irrational Fear, Ugly Sweater Party) and without asking too many questions he agrees to help the duo dump the body. A few months pass and the three friends are trying their best to get on with their lives and put that event behind them. All of them are plagued by nightmares, which comes to a head one fateful night when justice comes looking for them...

First off, as fun as it was to see Gregory Blair (Garden Party Massacre) in a small role here in the movies prologue sequence I did think this part of the film wasn't needed. His dance instructor appearance is short lived when he gets killed in a traditional slasher style manner. What I didn't like about this part was how clearly it spelt out the direction the film was going to go in. Later suggestions in Serena Waits don't really pick up any traction due to this prologue existing, and it was by far the most film like part. Revenge horrors usually keep the focus on the victim, but with Serena here apparently dead (despite no reports of a body being found) a large portion of the movie centres on the three friends with not much horror happening at all. There was always the anticipation of that coming at some point and so I liked the anticipation.

There are not many characters introduced throughout the film and so we follow the three for the duration. Jack was a stereotypical aggressive meat head, Miles was a stereotypical frat type meat head, with Scott more of a follower type. My problem with Scott is that he was played by Chudabala, an actor who is swiftly becoming my new favourite. He brings the usual energy to his role here, and was someone that I was vaguely rooting for. His character had obviously done wrong, yet he was the most innocent. The female cast didn't have as much personality to them, aside from Scott's girlfriend, Trini (Lara Jean Sullivan - Ugly Sweater Party) and while they were not designed to be as complex as the three guilt ridden men it would have still been nice to know more information about them.

While the horror is almost entirely missing from the films second act when it does appear it is usually quite violent in a torture porn type of way. Things are often suggested rather than explicitly shown, but the film gets around this in a way that it is often quite clear what is going on. It leads up to a few wince inducing moments. The plot itself felt a little too smooth around the edges, the middle felt like it played out a lot more realistically than the book ends that went much deeper into fictional territory. Throughout there is a good choice of songs, they are terrible, but fit the frat vibe. The actual soundtrack was effective, a lite trip-hop vibe at times, that to me always brings to mind the cutscenes from the original Silent Hill video game.

Serena Waits could be seen as a little stale due to the large expanse of time between the moments of horror. For me I found this downtime to be the most interesting part, detailing how people with dark secrets are able to continue their lives, even in a very watered down fictional film world was something I enjoyed seeing. When the horror does come it is all suitably nasty. I may not have liked the concept that wrapped this tale all up, but it was neatly put together. Serena Waits is currently available exclusively on Kings of Horror, a wider release across multiple digital platforms will happen on 25th September, all thanks to Terror Films.


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