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Film Review: A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff (2016)

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SYNOPSIS:

Two desperate brothers hope to get great acting from their female lead by convincing her their making a real snuff film starring her. As their plot unfolds, however, they find out they’ve signed up for more than they’d bargained for. 

REVIEW:

Director: Mitchell Altieri
Writer: Cory Knauf (story/script), Adam Weis (story/script), Mitchell Altieri (story/script), Phil Flores (story)
Starring: Joey Kern, Luke Edwards, Bree Williamson, Perry Laylon Ojeda, and Carter MacIntyre

A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff is a unique indie-horror romp through two dimwitted brothers’ attempt to make a believable yet fake snuff film. Their plan requires that their star not be in on the fact it’s all just a movie, which leads to trouble when the captive damsel-in-distress turns into a femme fatale.

Joey Kern (Cabin Fever 2002, Bloodsucking Bastards) plays Dresden Winters, a former prom-king who, with his brother Dominic (Luke Edwards, The Wizard 1989, Jeepers Creepers II) moved to Hollywood to get famous. When they run out of money to pay their friendly gay landlord Jorge (Perry Laylon Ojeda, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, Earthfall 2015), Dresden gets the crazy idea to make a horror film in just two days for a competition with a big cash prize. What’s more, he wants to cast the wannabe starlet Jennifer (Bree Williamson, One Life to Live TV Series, Mommy’s Little Boy), but doesn’t want to tell her she’s got the part. Instead, he convinces Dominic to help him kidnap Jennifer, and treat her as though she’s being murdered for a snuff film. When they’re done getting enough footage, the pair plans to set her free and tell her it was all a setup, hoping that she’ll forgive the brothers after she sees the kickass movie they’ve made.

The cast really does wonders here, with Kern giving the kind of damn-fine, off-kilter country boy performance that Matthew McConaughey can only dream of. When he’s playing Dresden the older brother, he’s engaging and full of lunatic energy. When he’s got his bondage gear on to play the killer, he actually loses that crazy power, and plays an uncommitted madman with big inadequacy issues. The split line he has to walk is subtle, and Kern walks it expertly in a very unsubtle-way.

Edwards also does a good job as the uncommitted younger brother, and his resting nervous face plays well off of Kern’s wild vibe. Bree Williamson brings a strength and intelligence to the film that elevates her above the brothers, but she successfully plays the stricken victim too; what this means is that, while Williamson is clearly the more competent of the trio, at no point during her abduction does the audience doubt that she’s in danger.

The plot is interesting enough, but so is the method of storytelling. There’s a hodge-podge of indie-movie staples packed in, most in the first half hour, and they range from montages to faux-VHS tracking effects. While some of these don’t quite mesh with the real meat of the film, they’re never boring, and the risks taken by director Mitchell Altieri—who, with writer Phil Flores, make up “The Butcher Brothers” (The Violent Kind 2010, The Hamiltons)—are appreciated. The odd juxtaposition of humorous moments (such as when Dresden, trying to force a pillowcase over Jennifer’s head, keeps telling her that it’s okay because it’s her pillowcase) with the moments of violent potential works well, and could have kept the movie afloat without the weirder snippets, such as when an infomercial presenter (played by Carter MacIntyre, Hunter Killer 2017, The Truth 2010) starts speaking to Dresden from a television set. These scenes and their low-budget effects feel more like intrusions into the film proper, and give The Beginner’s Guide to Snuff a more amateurish vibe than some of The Butcher Brothers’ other films. However, those moments are often enjoyable, even if patched in, and almost imbue the movie with a meta-element, given the lead characters’ amateur filmmaker status.

All in all, A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff succeeds at being both funny and thoroughly entertaining. It runs a little long, and there are moments where the auteur-style reached for by director Altieri get in the way of some seriousness that breaks up the humor. That said, The Butcher Brothers have crafted something a little bit Reservoir Dogs, a little bit Bloody Pit of Horror, and a little bit Buffalo ’66, all rolled into one—and if that mix doesn’t interest you, then I don’t know what will.

 

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