Bastard is a horror comedy film directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young in both their feature film directorial debuts, and it’s the first film from production company Big Bad Film as well. That’s when you know you’re in for something. When a company’s name sets you up for an easy insult like that. You just know I will incorporate the name into a super-clever final verdict. Bastard is a part of the 8 Films to Die For.
If you haven’t heard of 8 Films to Die For, once upon a time, they were a film festival that featured, you guessed it, eight horror films each year. And, for what it’s worth, no matter what I may say about this film (or some other film in 8 Films to Die For), I love any festival that spotlights upcoming, aspiring filmmakers, and I’m sad they’re no longer around. One film from their festival I’ve been meaning to talk about is The Final, which I hope to discuss shortly (editor’s note: – McConnaughay wrote a review of The Final in 2020, about four years later).
The cast includes Rebekah Kennedy, Ellis Greer, Dan Creed, and Will Tranfo. I am not familiar with any of these actors, myself, but I’ll assure you they’re mostly formidable and capable with their roles. That’s imperative for any film, but for a lesser known horror, it’s a definite highlight. The acting isn’t about to wow you or anything, but it’s acceptable and competent. That’s not the most flowery of compliments, but it’s no less fundamental.
The film has an interesting enough narrative, it follows five strangers and a masked murderer that kills ’em off inside a lonely mountain town. Sounds like a typical slasher, eh? The characters include a newlywed couple that just so happen to be serial killers, two runaways they pick up on the side of the road, and a suicidal cop, with the newlywed couple being the crown jewel of the bunch.
When the flick starts, it opens with what I believe to be the best scene of the entire movie, involving the killers and a random guy in his vehicle. They kill him, of course, but the scene’s execution had me looking forward to the film a lot more than beforehand. This is helped by the twosome’s dialogue as well as the cinematic scoring, which carries a retro style that mixes familiar elements without coming off as too derivative.
A short and sweet run-time of 81 minutes works to the film’s benefit and disadvantage. I like a long film, but I also like a film that knows when it is meant to be a short film. Part of the reason I think individuals are drawn to the Twilight Zone, Hammer Horror, Troma, or Full Moon, for instance, is because the short-windedness of it all. They can afford to be hit-and-miss because the investment is scaled back, with the film’s novelty often able to carry a dud so you’re not licking your wounds afterward.
The dialogue is quirky at times with occasional one-liners that sometimes hit their mark.
Unfortunately, for the most part, Bastard suffers as a mishmash of themes. A jack of all trades, but a master of none. Dealing with serious subject-matter like incest, the film feels disproportionate and inconsistent. Don’t get me wrong, Bastard tries at emotional depth, and the actors show some efforts, but it is followed by strange attempts at comedy that fail in execution. The moments it doesn’t fuck around are the best moments, or the moments when it’s fucking around serves a purpose.
I don’t want to spoil it for any of you, but there’s a scene involving a sex-toy being used as a weapon that really emphasizes a lack of structure. A film like Evil Bong 420 can have a dildo involved, no big deal, but Bastard played it too straight for that. From the beginning, the humor was sarcastic and light-heart, but it was never really what I’d regard as ‘campy’ until that scene.
I also can’t help but think it started to swallow its tail by the end with an overtly convoluted approach. Bastard’s run-time is an advantage because it makes these moments shorter and it allows me to quickly move onto something else, but it’s a disadvantage because these moments might have reaped a great deal of benefit off more time. It’s a double-edged sword.
This is all a damn shame, because Bastard has the inner workings of a solid slasher film approach. The cast aren’t superbly fleshed out, but they’re fleshed out more than the average Joe being offed by a masked killer. I couldn’t imagine any of them dying, but that only makes me wish it wasn’t a slasher film at all. The slasher aspect feels like an afterthought, and more than the slasher component, I found myself more interested in the characters themselves. In particular, I liked the killer couple and the runaways. How cool would a film about them on a road trip be, I wonder. Almost Devil’s Reject-esque. The whole time, the couple is debating on whether to off them, and the runaways are dealing with their own dilemma. But that’s not the movie Bastard is.
Bastard is, however, an entertaining enough horror film, that I enjoyed just enough to assume others might enjoy it even more. IMDb dubs the budget as eighty grand, which means they did an awful lot with a small amount. In the end, if you are a fan of the sort of stuff from 8 Films to Die For, I would recommend it.