Some actors seem to remain in relative obscurity despite their enormous talents. The list is a short one but it’s comprised of people who, gauged by their onscreen work should have been playing footsie with people like Soderbergh and J.J. Abrams long ago. Some, like Brit Sean Harris (“Isolation”, “24 Hour Party People”)have thriving careers elsewhere while others like Anne Heche dabble on the outskirts of mega fame but never seem to get the right vehicle or role at the right time. Then there is Tiffany Shepis, her career journey through the indie horror ranks playing unhinged sexpots may be the biggest reason she isn’t sipping Diva Vodka aboard Spielberg’s ‘Seven Seas’ yacht. If anyone in Hollywood had the sense that god gave an oak gall there wouldn’t be a Smurfs movie and Tiffany would be the next Bond femme fatale faster than you can say Booty Galore.
“The Violent Kind” is the latest offering from the filmmaking team of Mitch Altieri and Phil Flores, who work under the moniker “The Butcher Brothers”. The duo made a splash with their horror feature “The Hamiltons” which was picked to be part of the original ‘8 Films to Die For’ series. “The Violent Kind” follows a trio of bikers (Cody, Q and Elroy) as they head off to a 50th birthday for a biker gang matriarch who also happens to be Cody’s kin. Biker shindigs are raucous affairs and for that reason this little soiree is held deep in the woods several hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite being a legacy Cody is a bit of an outcast both in temperament and because he is perceived as having compromised the gang during a 2 year prison stint.
The party eventually disperses and Cody, Q, Elroy, along with Q’s girl Shade, and young Megan stay behind to sleep off the booze. No sooner have things calmed down when Megan’s sister Michelle (Shepis) returns to the house covered in blood and ranting incomprehensibly. The dominoes start to drop in short order from there. Q’s truck dies, Michelle goes ‘Evil Dead’ then rips off Elroy’s face and Cody and Megan discover that the reclusive neighbor has blown off his own head in a room full of missing persons posters. This is all before a covey of rockabilly rowdies show up to savage the already besieged band of boorish bikers.
The Butcher Brothers showed good sense in not reigning Shepis in too much. She gets to be an instinctual banshee smoldering then spinning, spouting and spewing a genuinely volcanic mania. Sadly, in “The Violent Kind” she is surrounded by actors who are plying a tepid form of indication that is made all the more thin by a CW styled lighting and shooting that seems to plague the first half of this film. The audience gets a lot of character time that inspires little investment as we wait for the fiendish proceedings to ramp up into a genuine fervor. The subplot with Shepis continues to pay out some thrills during her screen time but the other horror elements in the first half seem borrowed, forced or glossed over, both in the writing and execution department.
The good in “The Violent Kind” centers around Shepis, some nicely executed practical effects/make-up and a nicely conceived narrative turn at the 50 minute mark. The arrival of the Rockabilly brigands to the house heralds a new tone and kicks off a well handled set-piece that introduces the character of Vernon. Vernon is the kingpin of the greaser gang and he is played with impressive craze by Joe Egender. Egender steps into the void Shepis leaves when her character goes comatose and helps the Butcher Brothers establish a mood that at times produces faint murmurs of David Lynch and Stephen King.
Even despite a denouement that generates more questions (around motivations) than answers the end of the film is strangely satisfying. How much of the success of the second half of “The Violent Kind” is due the blandness of its opening 45 minutes is hard to tell. But regardless of the reasons the story turn and the energies of two standout performers help to elevate this from an aggravating retread to promising early salvo from a filmmaking team who may have some good genre offerings in front of them. The writing is sloppy in points and most of the characters are either over-hammy or undercooked but the backend is weighted well enough that had they only figured out a way to find more screen time for Egender and Shepis they’d have had a pretty memorable film. Then again, everyone in Hollywood seems to suffer from not knowing what they are missing when it comes to Tiffany Shepis.