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Film Review: Chemical Peel (2014)

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SYNOPSIS:

A bachelorette party turns deadly when a chemical reaction overtakes a valley, but being indoors could be just as deadly as being outside.

REVIEW;

Director: Hank Braxtan
Writers: Dan Sinclair, Hank Braxtan, Arielle Brachfeld, Natalie Victoria
Stars: Natalie Victoria, Arielle Brachfeld, Stephanie Greco, Lacy Fisher

What do you get if you have a house to film in and a fog machine? Well, Chemical Peel, of course. A low budget, minimal location affair about a bunch of ladies stuck in a house while a malevolent chemical fog engulfs the air around them.

Rae (Natalie Victoria), hosts her sister Angela’s (Arielle Brachfeld) bachelorette party, and along with a few friends, they go about getting drunk and having a boring old time until Angela inevitably brings up the car accident their younger sister died in, blaming Rae for it since she was driving.

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In the morning, the ladies wake up to find a mysterious fog outside, along with a couple of dead birds. The TV reports that a train crash has caused some unknown chemicals to be spilt and everyone is urged to stay inside.

What happens for the next good chunk of the film is just that. The ladies stay inside for the most part, save for one at the beginning and one stupidly moronic lady a little later, and argue… again… and again… and again. The monotony is broken once an outsider gets into the house, but that is short lived. Fortunately by that time we’re into Act 3 so things do get a move on until an unbelievable (not in a good way) rescue and a surprising ending that’s tacked on and really doesn’t bring anything of value to the story.

First let’s pick on the title. You get the title, Chemical Peel, right? It’s some wordsmithery magic, but it really brings the quality of the film down right off the bat. As soon as I read the title I was expecting a nudity infused horror film, not an attempt at something more The Mist like. For you writers out there, your title is an important part of your script, make sure it matches the tone you want to convey.

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Ok, with that aside, let’s get to the characters. We have your typical bitch character in Angela, but boy is she a bitch. She makes sure you never, ever, EVER forget this. The character is so one note it grates on you every time she speaks. She even manages to bring her bitchiness out of the blue just for the sake of conflict. That is never a good thing. Dialog and conflict needs to come organically, not forced out just because you want it to.

We also have the doomsday heralder. You know, the one that always says “We’re going to die”, well in Chemical Peel that’s all this character ever does. Every other character was serviceable to the story and nothing standout, that included the lead, Rae.

The cinematography, though nothing fancy in terms of camera angles and shots chosen, was rather good considering the low budget (estimated $20k) nature. This is no handicam affair. Proper equipment was used. Sound was clear and professional also. Kudos are well deserved here.

The story, though a valiant effort, was hobbled from the start. Without a (solid) antagonist, or ulterior motives, or an attempt to save themselves, all we’re left with is watching a bunch of ladies argue over the same things again and again while we wait for them to die. No attempt to escape is made. No attempt to try and make some sort of signal is devised. They literally wait for someone to come rescue them, all the while Angela spouts her bitch dialog to everyone and belittles/blames Rae, while Rae tries to keep everyone calm as the doomsday heralder continually says “we’re going to die” and the remaining characters cry and babble.

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These types of films usually rely on conflict amongst the trapped characters to carry the film, but the problem with Chemical Peel is that it’s just the one issue (the car crash) used repeatedly here, and it’s only used for two characters. More was needed. Maybe another lady slept with one of the other’s boyfriends, maybe one character screwed over another in a business transaction. I don’t know, but what I do know is that more was needed in Chemical Peel as it got monotonous very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. The performances, bar Arielle Brachfield’s one note, almost monotone delivery of her bitchy dialog, were professional and solid. Their fear and anguish was conveyed well, dialog was delivered convincingly and you did feel for the characters. But seeing the same stuff over and over again does not make for entertaining film and by the halfway point I wanted them all to die already.

Some of the deaths are forced by making character’s do inane things and I feel this was directly related to the story issues I mentioned earlier. In the film’s defence, a couple of deaths were handled greatly and one was a genuine surprise and setup quite well. However, the last death and subsequent survival of the final character really pissed me off. At this point the doomed character dies within seconds of being exposed to the fog outside, her face melting, whereas the final character manages to survive a good minute without a single scratch on her or anything melting off. WTF?! This is poor storytelling at its, er, poorest.

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Would I recommend Chemical Peel to anyone? No. It’s not a bad film by all means, but it’s not a good film either. It’s just… Meh. There are other films that convey this concept more convincingly and would be a better choice to waste your time on, but if this ended up on your screen and you had nothing better to do, give it a go.

2 out of 5 gas masks

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