Directed by Eric Pham
Stars Violett Beane, Ella LaMont, Dalton E. Gray, and Johnny Walter
There are plenty of ways that an indie movie can make up for a lack of budget. Interesting camera work, great characters, fantastic writing, unique presentation, an interesting idea… any number of things. Great indie horror films tick off at least one of the boxes. Great “bad” horror movies usually tick off several for how spectacularly they fail. Either way, it’s the exceptional qualities of these films that allows them to worm their way into our hearts and collective minds for years and years.
The absolute worst thing that a movie can be is bland. Unremarkable, forgettable, middle-of-the-road, mediocre, safe, banal—whatever you call it, the film does nothing to set itself apart from the pack. You shut it off feeling empty and unsatisfied. You spent the last 90 minutes waiting in line for Gordon Ramsey and were just served Applebee’s.
That’s a lot of words to set the scene for Flay, and probably more than it deserves. If Flay were a flavor of ice cream, it would be “gelatin.” Almost everything about it is safe, standard, and predictable. The only thing remarkable about it is how they got through a whole 94 minutes with so little blood, action, or actual scares.
Taking place in a small town smack dab in the center of Somewhere, USA, Flay tells the story of a young woman named Moon (Elle LaMont) and her brother River (Dalton E. Gray). Moon has been away for sometime, pursuing a career or something in New York while River is abandoned to take care of their drug addict mother. Moon is forced to return after her mother is found dead. Tensions ensue.
It’s not just awkward dinner table conversations and teenage angst that the reunited siblings are forced to deal with. They are also haunted by a tall, faceless, lanky man in a suit. Drawn to a chain that their mother found in a pawn shop, this entity is out to kill anyone and everyone that… exists? Is adjacent to the chain? The rules are kind of fuzzy on that one.
Now, by my description, you might be wondering if this is a Slender Man movie. If you were to ask the director, I’m sure his answer would be no. If you ask anyone with common sense, the answer is yes. The movie gives the explanation that the spirit is actually an ancient Native American shaman, who has placed a curse on the chains used to bind him as soldiers cut off his face. It was standard practice at the time to force Native Americans to adopt western names and clothing, so that’s where he gets his fancy threads. So why is his entire head pure white? Why is he so tall and slender? Because he is Slender Man.
It’s just one of several half-assed, underdeveloped contrivances strung together to make the movie seem like it has some thought put into it. Why are their names River and Moon? Are they Native Americans, who have some connection to the monster hunting them? Nope! When Moon touches the chain, why does she have visions of the spirit? When River paints, why does he channel dark visions? Why does the creature come out of the water? Why does their mother manifest before the creature strikes? How is it actually killing people? What does it want? None of the backstory, characters, or motivations are fleshed out enough to provide anything but the most vestigial justification to put moving pictures on a screen for an hour and a half.
But hey, even the most nonsense of plots can still be fun if the action is good! This is where Flay fails most miserably. Of the film’s handful of deaths, all of them happen off-screen. I think what happens is that the Slender Man pulls them into a puddle and they drown. There’s no blood, no intensity, just a dude standing behind them, an audio cue, and the scene ends. Next time we see them, they’re dead. Riveting stuff.
Now I’ve been shitting on Flay pretty hard, so I want to take a moment to recognize what it does well. The relationship between Moon and Officer Forman (Johnny Walter) was actually pretty charming at times. There were also a couples of scenes between River and Moon that actually bordered on heartfelt. Not all of them, heavens no, but one or two that stood out as being decent. There’s one shot that looked pretty cool, where River was painting a canvas and the paint started running upwards. Those are the three nice things I have to say.
Flay will not entertain you. With no real action, basic characters, average camera work, and a sub-par plot, it doesn’t take any risks to elevate itself above the sum of its parts. The only people I can imagine getting excited while watching it are Slender Man fetishists.
Without any solid scares, characters, or ideas, you’re better off watching something that’s either far better or far more terrible.