Posted in Diablo Joe Reviews by Neal at 07:16, Dec 24 2022
review by Diablo Joe
If ever there was a film of recent memory that so completely confounds expectations and presuppositions, it is Eric Pennycoff’s small-ensemble uber-black comedy, “The Leech.” From its lurid, almost stoner-rock promotional art and startling shock-title card to its “Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” meets hedonistic man-child premise, everything you think this film will be is ever-thwarted. Its twists and turns lead to a steady spiral into increasingly twisted and sordid territory.
Father David is the meek pastor presiding over an ever-dwindling and disinterested congregation. His desire to follow Jesus’s humble lessons of true Christian selflessness and generosity is tested when he encounters Terry, a boorish, uncouth, and sybaritic fellow who has been tossed out into the cold by his girlfriend, Lexi. With Christmas just days away, David invites Terry to stay with him. But Terry proves more than just an imposition. At first, he just tests David’s commitment to practice what he literally preaches. But, soon joined by Lexi—who the film reveals to be pregnant with a child that may or may not be his, Terry’s devotion to more than just holiday revelry tries the priest’s piety, sense of benevolence, and sanity.
“The Leech” begins almost innocuously. We could potentially be watching some ersatz low-budget version of an 80s annoying, loutish buddy film with Terry in place of the John Candy role. But quickly, Pennycoff twists that paradigm into something more complex, with deeper overtones for both Terry and, especially, David. Terry teases the sad-sack pastor, but his taunts reveal he may have a greater insight into David’s psyche than even David himself. A particular turning point is the Truth or Dare-esque drinking game that Terry and Lexi challenge David to one evening. It’s here where a film previously painted with rather broad strokes becomes much more subtle and, at moments, even a bit cryptic.
This complexity of character and theme is made possible through the terrific performances of “The Leech’s” small, tight cast. Jeremy Gardner, who had worked with Pennycoff previously on “Sadistic Intentions” and may be familiar to some from 2019’s “After Midnight,” brings a raucous energy and primal ID-driven excess to Terry while never allowing the character to drift into the stereotypical. Similarly, Graham Skipper fleshes out his performance as Father David with a mix of lonely melancholy, self-denial, and guilelessness. Both actors are acutely attuned to Pennycoff’s teetering balance of humor, tragedy, and the grotesque. As Lexi, Taylor Zaudtke, another “Sadistic Intentions” alum, easily holds her own alongside her castmates. Zaudtke’s character is a mess of a human being, but not without her own type of misguided rebelliousness toward Terry and compassion for David. As a young Hispanic man once shepherded off the street by Father David, Rigo Garay’s eponymously-named character may be the only person who recognizes the impending danger of his padre’s growing obsession with his latest lamb.
Pennycoff’s script is clever and filled with bathos, and the director has a knack for creating multifaceted characters and placing them into complex themes without seeming pedantic or heavy-handed. There’s plenty of allegory afoot in “The Leech,” but it never feels in your face. The result is a film that can be enjoyed on many levels. It IS as lurid as its promotional materials. It IS as startling as that title card. It IS a man-child comedy. It IS twisted and sordid. But it is also darkly tragic and so much more.
A combination of treacle candy and lump of coal, “The Leech” may be just about the most unusual Christmas film you’ll see, but it is really, really good.
This devil of a reviewer gives “The Leech” 4 out of 5 imps.