Review: The Leech

Written and directed Eric Pennycoff, a devout priest welcomes a struggling couple into his house at Christmas time. What begins as a simple act of kindness quickly becomes the ultimate test of faith once the sanctity of his home is jeopardized. Starring: Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner, Taylor Zaudtke and Rigo Garay.

Christmas and horror are two things that sound as if they shouldn’t go together but from Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? to Black Christmas to Gremlins and Krampus, the pairing has proved a winner. The Leech takes that in a slightly different direction, it brings through a psychological element and even adds its own twist to the nativity. It’s not the most festive, starting with a touch of depression, loneliness and lots of naivety but it brings through the Christmas spirit in its own unique way. Once the story gets going, you can get a pretty good idea of where it’s headed but at the same time, it’s the way that it gets there that matters. It’s all about hitting your buttons, raising those red flags and playing with Father David’s (Graham Skipper) naivety and generosity, seeing how far they bend or if they’ll break.

With that comes a decent amount of tension, some purposeful frustration and bending of reality which creates an interestingly twisted atmosphere. It starts out with its feet firmly on the ground but as the lines get tested, Eric Pennycoff’s direction gets more creative. Pushing what’s real and what isn’t, embracing the chaos that builds as David’s previously peaceful environment is put through the wringer. It mixes between the more drab nature of his life and bringing through the colourful, manic and uncontrollable nature of his guests. It toys with the nativity and classic Christmas themes but at the same time it doesn’t try to push on them too harshly, going for a more fluid inclusion. Which was a great choice from Pennycoff, allowing the film to not be limited by it, and it can still colour outside the lines.

Graham Skipper gives us the light side of the coin, he’s endlessly generous and kind but he’s also naïve and trusting to a fault. It’s a dangerous combination when the dark side of the coin arrives in the form of Jeremy Gardner and Taylor Zaudtke, they’ve reserved places in the hall of fame for worst guests ever. Bringing together the three of them creates a big tension with a dose of awkwardness and a snowballing sense of dread. Skipper gives us the feel that there is a bigger personality hiding behind the collar, while Gardner shows that Terry’s persona is all on the surface because to him there are no lines to cross, or at least none that he won’t. Along with Zaudtke’s Lexi, they also tap into the good old polite excuse for a big mess, constantly pushing back when David nears his limit, forcing him to choose between generosity and rationality. It’s a fun battle to watch at work and while you may know the general direction it’s headed, the routes that it takes to get there can be surprising.

The Leech plays with the difference between taking someone in and being taken in, and it’s a great choice for an alternative Christmas flick. It uses the festivities to its advantage to create something that builds its initial air of discomfort and throwing of red flags into chaos and destruction. It’s a classic downward spiral, creating a terrific mess along the way. Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner and Taylor Zaudtke all work together extremely well to build a battlefield of patience versus liberties. If you’re a fan of films like Black Christmas (1974) or Silent Night (2012), then this will definitely be for you.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Available exclusively on Arrow Player from December 5

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