As the closing night film for FilmQuest, we were treated to a screening of Gnaw, a fun independent creature feature by director Haylar Garcia. Starring Penelope Mitchell and Kyle Gass, fans of this genre have a new film to add to their collection that is sure to please!
Mitchell plays the lead character, Jennifer, an adorable gal who is making an attempt at a fresh start. She has just recently left her abusive husband and is just arriving at her new apartment complex when we meet her character. She is quickly befriended by her new neighbor, Terry, played by Kyle Gass, who introduces her to that landlady, Claudette. Claudette’s character is performed by the wonderful Sally Kirkland, and she is just great in the role. And what she lacks in people skills or any kindness towards Jennifer, Terry makes up for it in droves. Gass offers up a glowing performance, and you instantly love him in the film. His natural charisma shines warmly and offers relief in some of the darker moments of the plot. All the actors give fantastic performances and I felt this was the strongest aspect of the film. They did a great job casting and it lends power to the film’s thematic attributes and invests us deeply in the main characters.
Jennifer has problems with her new apartment right off the bat. Her middle-aged neighbor weeps loudly every night and the sound carries through the air vent, preventing Jennifer from getting sleep. She needs rest as she searches for a job, and after a violent incident leaves her neighbor’s unit destroyed, she inherits a decorative box from her. From here on out, Jennifer’s problems continuously get worse. She starts to wake up with strange lesions on her body adding a strong element of body horror to the movie. Every morning she wakes up with more and more, until the poor girl finds herself in a living nightmare that threatens her sanity and her life.
The film is a slow burn for the most part, and just a touch lethargic in the second act. Garcia is a bit heavy handed on the drama as Jennifer struggles to break away from her crappy past, and it takes just a little too long for her to start to get to the root of the mystery. It’s obvious that this is done with the intention of delivering a riotous pay-off ending and it works. I think that it pushes about 5-10 minutes longer than it needs to, but it’s totally forgiven because the ending is so great. The films picks up nicely in the last act and offers up a delightful action sequence and twist. Oh, I wish I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil it!
Apart from the slow pacing in certain scenes, the other weakness in this film is the score. It relies quite heavily on repetitive and high-pitched piano phrases to create tension. It’s a little annoying and distracting. Making up for this are the special effects that come into play in the latter part of the film. They are pretty good for an indie horror flick and I enjoyed the visuals immensely. The set design is beautifully done and it caught my eye right away. The gore is standard, and maybe could have been a bit more visceral, but I felt it worked well. I could see how taking it a bit further would lose the mystique and push it fully into body horror realm.
This is Garcia’s second non-documentary feature, and it is much better than his previous film, American Terror, showcasing a knack for emotionally intelligent horror. He seems to work well with his actors and Gnaw includes a thematic undercurrent that is usually lacking in independent genre, especially in creature features. Gnaw merits a viewing and I think many will absolutely love it. I certainly look forward to seeing it again.
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar
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