Sweatshop (UK DVD)

Directed by Stacy Davidson

Starring Ashley Kay, Peyton Wetzel, Brent Himes

Distributed by High Fliers Films

Following in the narrative footsteps of just about every modern low-budget slasher film before it, Stacy Davidson’s Sweatshop brings us a group of young, lusty partygoers stuck in an abandoned building with a murderous assailant. Fleshing out the bones, it’s the tale of Charlie (Ashley Kay), a highly regarded party promoter in the underground rave scene who, along with a gang of her closest friends, breaks into an abandoned factory at the edge of town to set up her latest event.

Unbeknownst to them, said factory happens to be the stomping ground of a monstrous, hulking ogre of a man, credited only as The Beast, and his ghoulish entourage of deformed helpers. As is the norm, while our core characters set about getting drunk, stoned and sexed-up, The Beast uses any opportunity to quite literally destroy them with his weapon of choice: an incredibly large hammer fashioned from an anvil.

Sweatshop’s main failing is that it manages to utilise a highly effective, and creative, group of antagonists but keeps the actual storyline far too incidental for its own good. This isn’t always a bad thing, but when the film excels so well in fashioning the demises of its characters (we’ll get to that later), it’s a major negative when getting to that point is such a chore. No back story to, or even hints as to the nature of, The Beast and his minions is offered, and being a band of smug, self-satisfied neo-goth scenesters that are likely solely responsible for keeping their local Hot Topic in business, the majority of the core personalities range from mildly unlikeable to absolutely unbearable to watch. Performances from the cast are actually far beyond what one would come to expect from a low budget slasher flick these days, with only a few chinks in the armour: While his character may be pretty obnoxious, lead Peyton Wetzel is excellent as Scotty as is the comic relief of Brent Himes as Scotty’s redneck brother, Wade. I’m unsure whether it’s actually praise, but if the character of Miko, played by actress Julin, was supposed to be one of the most horrifically annoying and sheer aggravating characters in history, then she did one hell of a job.

Visually, the flick has an impressive palette with plenty of shifts in lighting, some wonderfully grim-looking sets and locations, and very nice POV work from within The Beast’s choice headwear – a welder’s mask. Director Stacy Davidson does try to inject some needless energy into the flick with attempts at music video-level kinetic editing, which actually serves to detract from the straight-out nasty feeling of it all and tends to leave some sequences either confusing, or lacking the visual climax they should have had.

Sweatshop most definitely finds its footing in the latter half as more of the comedic beats and character interactions succeed (a moment between Scotty and Wade near the climax is laugh-out-loud good), but it feels far too long. A huge number of scenes are stretched to breaking point, including what should have been a punchy opening which rapidly finds itself robbed by any sense of pace due to a severe case of over-length and over-editing. Similarly, multiple unnecessary scenes of characters dancing are dragged on for what appears to be the sole purpose of “enjoying” some of the techno-goth songs adopted for the soundtrack.

Where Sweatshop redeems itself, though, is how it disposes of its characters. If you’re a gore hound or splatter aficionado, then this flick should be on your shelf regardless of its narrative failings. The Beast is an unconditional wrecking ball of carnage as he dishes out the pain with ripped-off jaws, disembowelment, decapitation, genital mutilation, smashed craniums, dismemberment and sheer fucking bodily annihilation at the business end of his trusty hammer. The kills here are brutal, relentless, distinctly mean-spirited and… well, brilliant. Fashioned with some of the finest practical gore effects I’ve witnessed in a low budget venture for some time, with some likeminded friends and a few alcoholic beverages every death scene (and the final sequence featuring The Beast crashing the dance floor of the now-underway rave) is likely to turn your living room into a reverberating theatre of cheers, hollers, and cries of shock and awe. The lack of a defined central protagonist works to the film’s credit, here, leaving the viewer never quite certain which of our annoying quarry, if any, are actually going to make it out alive.

Taken for what it is, a certain tolerance of the lacklustre story elements of Sweatshop is recommended if you’re a fan of the grue. To skip it due to the mainly annoying characters and drawn-out first half would be to do yourself a grave disservice in that case. If, however, you’re not too fussed on the quality of the red stuff and would rather experience the thrills of investible characters fighting for survival you likely won’t find yourself making it past the 30-minute mark. Me, I can handle sitting in between – even if glimpses seen in the latter stages of the film frustratingly reveal that a little more focus on characterisation, narrative and tone could have presented Sweatshop as a seriously nasty, grim and essential piece of modern slasher (or should that be smasher?) mayhem. As it is, it could only be recommended for those looking to seriously quench their bloodlust.

High Fliers Films brings Sweatshop home to you on DVD completely absent of any special features. Better than an anvil-hammer to the head, I guess. Just.


3 out of 5

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Gareth Jones

Copywriter and critic sporting a lifelong obsession with all things horror. A little bit sane.