By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Jamie Bernadette, Vanessa Rose Parker and Justine Wachsberger
Written and directed by Dylan Reynolds
Marijuana, Bill Hicks once averred, should not only be legal, but mandatory.
“Pot is a better drug than alcohol,” the late, great comedian said. “Fact. I’ll prove it to you, man. You’re at a ball game or concert and someone’s really violent and aggressive and obnoxious—are they drunk or are they smoking pot? They’re drunk. I have never seen people on pot get in a fight because it is fucking impossible.”
Well, perhaps in the real world, but not in the hazy, glassy-eyed universe of 4/20 MASSACRE (available today on VOD and DVD). It seeks to conscript the audience into what is essentially a small army of Teds from FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, all of us presumably lulled into an exceedingly false sense of security by that assisted mellow, and punished accordingly for a complete lack of situational awareness.
From title to tagline (“Inhale. Exhale. Scream.”), 4/20 MASSACRE is hardly coy in its fierce devotion to its gimmick. Yet this self-proclaimed “first-ever stoner slasher”—here’s hoping the makers of THE TRIPPER and LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD aren’t waiting for writer/director Dylan Reynolds in the parking lot after the premiere—nevertheless demonstrates an admirable willingness to go beyond trope…if, alas, with somewhat mixed results.
No need to waste your time or ours churning out oodles of synopsis: Five young women head into the wilderness to celebrate a friend’s birthday—which just so happens to coincide with a certain date that might as well be floating around above their heads in pink neon. En route to their campsite, the ladies receive warnings from both a backwoodsy park ranger and a traumatized stoner blubbering on about a dead friend, which should instill a deep sense of foreboding but are instead met with shrugs.
For a short while, good vibes reign supreme—despite one itty-bitty offsite disembowelment—and it’s almost as if we’ve slipped into a sensitive indie film about the awkward transition from young adulthood to the real thing for a few 20somethings trying to hold onto more innocent times even as they grow and change and, in some cases, develop feelings that will prove unrequited. (If anything about 4/20 MASSACRE is revolutionary, it is the way the movie plumbs romantic relationships between women within the context of a low-budget horror film not for cheap titillation, but as a prism through which to tastefully view a facet of the human condition.)
Then a dude in a ghillie suit shows up with a hunting knife.
Turns out he’s protecting an illegal marijuana-grow operation. Yes, killing seems as if it would require considerably greater effort and engender greater risk than, you know, selling pot to potheads, but whatever; we’re all here for a reason, and it now gets underway in bloody earnest. The kills are entertaining and well-conceived, even if none would really stump you if “How might characters die in a stoner-slasher film?” were a category on FAMILY FEUD.
Oh, and remember how earlier in the movie, it was casually dropped into conversation that one of the women had been studying martial arts? Might come into play. (I don’t really need to say SPOILER ALERT here. Or do I?)
If it isn’t clear from the above already, no one should seek out 4/20 MASSACRE for harrowing scares or groundbreaking genre cinema. What propels the film forward is a series of intertwined, beautifully naturalistic performances from Jamie Bernadette (who also has KILLING JOAN debuting today), Vanessa Rose Parker, Justine Wachsberger, Stacey Danger and Marissa Pistone—which bring a welcome bit of nasty cognitive dissonance to the proceedings—and a solid, rousing denouement that, one hopes, returns that equilibrium our man Hicks heralded nearly a quarter-century ago.