Horror Releases: The Faceless Man (2019) - Reviewed

The Faceless Man begins with an impressive opening scene. A man in a suit walks through a hospital ward. He sits down next to a woman who turns out to be his estranged daughter, recently diagnosed with cancer. She proceeds to get all of her frustrations out on him in an angry, emotional speech. This sequence appears to have been done in one shot. At the very least, there are no visible edits to puncture the tension. It is about a man desperate to reconnect with his daughter and a woman, furious and scared, thoroughly rejecting the father who abandoned her. It is well written, well directed and well acted (especially by Sophie Thurling, as Emily). It also has surprisingly little to do with everything that comes after it. The rest of the movie occasionally displays some of the skill showcased in that opening scene, but it is so narratively scattered and tonally inconsistent that it just doesn’t work. Though it is certainly never boring.

The majority of the Australian horror/pitch black comedy The Faceless Man takes place three years after the prologue and follows Emily, recovered, yet terrified the cancer will return, as she travels with her friends for a weekend holiday in the country. There they find intolerant locals, a vengeful Russian gangster and the titular supernatural creature.

Oddly, it is the horror aspect that feels the most out of place in this mixture of humor and extreme bloody violence. I think I know where the Faceless Man is supposed to fit thematically, but the time isn’t taken to put him into that context. This is largely a “city teenagers inadvertently run afoul of violent country folk” story. The teenagers are arrogant and rude, while the locals are quirky and threatening. Most of the personality has been given to the antagonists, who will do anything to protect their nice, quiet town from outsiders. That plot goes as expected, even with the equally violent Russian gangster thrown in. The monster subplot has no real arc and is never made necessary.

Director/writer/producer James Di Martino definitely has a sense of humor about what he has put on screen. That keeps The Faceless Man entertaining. Sprinkled in among the multiple beheadings are a few decent gags. The way Di Martino uses classical music to introduce several of his characters is amusing, as are the peculiar performances of the murderous locals. Sadly, after her strong first impression, Thurling isn’t given much to do besides reacting to the carnage around her. It is clear little thought was put into any of the teenagers. However, people tend to watch horror movies more for the villains than the potential victims, anyway.

There are absolutely things I liked about The Faceless Man. It has effective gore, eccentric performances and, of course, that opening scene. It also meanders far too much, has dull lead characters, is overstuffed with themes it isn’t sure how to explore and contains a monster it fails to do anything interesting with. It is too messy for a recommendation, but if you enjoy Ozploitation, or violent, bloody, dark comedies, this may be worth a look.

--Ben Pivoz