PORNO got so wrapped up in what it was trying to be, it stumbled on what it was trying to say
I am a sucker for a great horror and comedy mashup. It is a sweet and salty combo that I just can’t say no to. This trope has been going strong since the days of Abbott and Costello. So, I was eager to check out Porno, a recent addition to the fold of things funny and frightening. I mean, a bunch of repressed teenagers facing off with a sex demon inside a movie theater? What could make for a better setup? I’m sure the pitch of this movie was remarkable. The final product however delivered more cringe than anything.
This film was helmed by Keola Racela. I know nothing about Racela’s body of work outside of Porno, other than this is his first feature. For everything I didn’t care for with his direction, I found an equal amount I enjoyed. There is no discernible tone with this film though. There are many themes that are all competing for the attention of not just the characters, but the audience as well. Repressed urges, curiosities, taking responsibility, and breasts. Lots of breasts. Racela has to make due the best he can from a very wobbly script. He displays strength in some key moments with the characters and their development. That is where he is the strongest. But his direction of space and pacing felt suffocating at times. This being undoubtedly a dry run for a future project that is smarter and tighter, he has the potential for great chops.
A group of teenagers work in a small two screen movie theater run by a tenacious Christian supervisor. They rip tickets, clean toilets, and sling popcorn after their mandatory pre-shift prayer circle with the boss. The kids are a motley crew of sorts, with a slew of archetypes represented: the jock, the goth, the nerd, the pervert, and the older surly twenty-something who blasts hardcore music and is overly protective of the screen projector. Their boss leaves our goth heroine Chazz (Jillian Mueller) in charge to lock up for the night. The gang of five all get to stay after hours and pick a movie of their choice to watch for themselves. This being set in 1992, it's slim pickings between A League of their Own and Encino Man. (Which would you choose?)
They never get to pick either however, because a crazy man sneaks in and runs wild in the theater. He breaks through a wall, revealing an underground dilapidated echo of an old theater. An old porno theater. This being tantamount to walking through a meadow of sacrilege, the group is beside themselves. With the crazy old man out of sight and out of mind, they search the ruins. The nerd of the group, Abe (Evan Daves), finds an old film reel still in playable condition. Despite the protests of projectionist Jeff (Robbie Tann), this new film is decided as the movie of the night. The concern for the crazy old man they never found from earlier has subsided.
What they end up being subjected to is a psychedelic trippy film, filled with culty snuff vibes and a naked woman. She is a succubus, now unlocked from her chains after the film reels started running. She systematically preys on the five hapless employees and their desires, chasing them throughout the theater. There are some tense moments sparsely placed in the third act, but unfortunately, the ending of this film is so predictable. Even worse, the predictable moments aren’t even as good as I thought they would be.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The cast that makes up the five employees are mostly a treat to watch when they share the screen. The actors share decent chemistry, but I wish they were placed in a better film. Barring a few lines that just didn’t land well at all, the dialogue fits the group. It isn’t particularly great, but it is honest.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Ok, this is where the movie excelled the most while simultaneously making me grimace the hardest in a long time. There is a strong helping of nudity in Porno. But not all of it is sexual in nature. The goriest parts deal with male genitalia. The molding, priming, and painting for the props in those heavier parts were so convincing, I had to turn away.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
To awaken the succubus, there is a rhythmic chant that is played twice in the film. It is pretty catchy if I’m being honest, but there isn’t a whole lot of memorable scoring here otherwise. I must admit though, when Jeff loads the projector, that sweet, sweet hum of gears turning is quite intoxicating.
I appreciate the message of Porno. It is relatable to the coming-of-age part of our lives where we are scared; unsure of our bodies, identity, and sexuality. But, it wasn’t as scary as it wanted to be or as funny as it needed to be. I wish this film had played it straight. If it had committed to being a comedy only, it would’ve landed so much better. Porno got so wrapped up in what it was trying to be, it stumbled on what it was trying to say.
PORNO Is Available Now to Stream on SHUDDER