‘Slapface’ Review – Shudder Monster Movie Gets Heavy on Heartache

Writer/director Kirill Sokolov possesses a unique ability to turn family disputes into dark, hyper-violent physical comedy for our amusement. The beginnings of Sokolov, Why don’t you die!, let the crisp action and bloodshed drama unfold between a father and daughter. His last, Without looking back, pits generations of women against each other for a no-holds-barred grudge match. While not as frenetic as his debut, Sokolov’s latest brings more violent family dysfunction but balance with the heart.

Olga (Victoria Korotkova) knows how to take a beating. About to be released, we meet her in prison, tied up and cashed in by the guards. After her four-year sentence for stabbing her boyfriend in the eye, she quickly visits her mother, Vera (Anna Mikhalkova), to take custody of his 10-year-old daughter Masha (Sophie Krugova). Except Vera refuses to give Masha up without a fight, even stabbing Olga to prove her point. This sparks a violent chase, with Olga and Masha on the run from Vera, who has enlisted Olga’s one-eyed ex, Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) to help recover them at all costs.

Sokolov bides his time to get to the heart of this often cynical exploration of motherhood and maternal instincts, instead setting up the personalities and dynamics between the main players. Olga hands out almost as much punishment as she receives, but wants the best for her rude daughter. Masha hasn’t seen her mother for years, though she eagerly chooses her over her bossy grandmother. Vera demonstrates time and again how little maternal ties mean to her as she uses lethal force to retrieve Masha. Oleg gets caught in the middle, still holding a torch for Olga but bullied by Vera.

A subplot involving the parallel of the prison guard’s family is the theme of motherhood, but does not work organically with the central narrative, nor is it as fleshed out. Why don’t you die! Star Vitaly Khaev appears as part of this subplot, unrelated to her previous character, but it feels like nothing more than a cameo.

Cat and Mouse Chase features a series of action sequences and settings, showcasing Sokolov’s sense of style. The vivid color palette emphasizes blood reds and vibrant forest greens, imparting a hyperrealism that accentuates the exaggerated violence between three generations of women.

Without looking back lacks the sustained intensity of Sokolov’s earlier effort, however, and the energy dissipates as the women avoid their inevitable emotional confrontation. Although the action eventually comes to fruition, not everything is resolved satisfactorily. While it’s true for the characters that these women aren’t one to express their feelings, Sokolov skips a few beats to rush to the conclusion.

Sokolov’s second effort isn’t quite as loud or intense as his debut, but it still demonstrates his distinct flair for action, violence, and twisted humor. Young Krugova is a scene stealer as the fearless Masha, the shining beacon of hope and potential in a deranged family tree. Korotkova also impresses as a vulnerable but tough mother who takes an insane amount of damage. Olga and Masha provide the beating and bloody heart beaten into mush in a wildly fun way.

Without looking back made its world premiere at SXSW.

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