[Fantasia '19] Review: A Tale of Satanism and Morality, PORNO is a Righteous Bloody Horror Comedy

The following review is from the Fantasia Film Festival, one of the premiere genre film festivals in the world.

Horror comedy is a tricky thing. Sometimes you lean to hard into one of the categories and you lose interest from the other. It’s a broad subject matter too, because you get some movies that are very obviously comedic, such as standout hits like Shaun of the Dead or Army of Darkness but deeper within the genre you will find those dark, pitch black comedies such as Midsommar or The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Porno snuggles itself neatly in the middle of the these two niches, still positing a good amount of chuckles but embracing its horror roots with some truly vicious, bloody moments.

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A group of teenagers who help run the local Christian theater are in the prime of puberty; tail end of their high school life and hormones are off the charts. When they are tasked with closing up the theater, they stumble across an old reel that ends up being much more than just some old movie left behind. Instead, what they find is a pagan sacrifice that unleashes a vindictive demon on the pubescent teens and now they must fight against their urges and for their lives.

Porno has no problem owning up to its title. These Christian teens find this film and they watch it because they think it’s a porn and oh boy, these kids are all a few steps beyond sexually repressed. We don’t get any graphic sex scenes throughout the movie but the theme of sexuality is present from the get go. Two of our leads, Abe and Todd, have already been exposed as voyeurs and very early on in the film they have a discussion about wanting to watch A League of Their Own simply because Madonna is in it and she released a book called Sex. These guys are chomping at the bit for anything even remotely sexual. Rounding out the rest of our focal group are Chaz, the only female, who has a crush on Ricky, who she knows is gay. “Heavy Metal” Jeff is the last of the ensemble, a college dropout who claims ‘edge’ and sticks to it heartily. The characters are all having their own struggles with religion, morality and sexuality and although they’re facing these issues in head-on fight with a succubus, Porno does a solid job at playing with these themes with the veneer of a bloodstained demon.

Let’s tackle both genres that Porno dips a toe into. Horror and comedy. From the horror aspect, a lot really works. The shape-shifting succubus unleashed is a well designed, cleverly used vehicle for their own inhibitions manifesting in physical form. Props to writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli for crafting such a smart antagonist, one that is sexy and dangerous but also such a perfect chameleon of analogy to play around with. Effects and prosthetic artists Greg Pikulski and Brett Schmidt craft a memorable demon on such a low budget, reminding us that practical effects can go a long way when you have such talented artists behind the scenes. They also crafted one of the most gnarly prosthetics I’ve ever seen, showcasing testicles in a way that made my stomach churn. That’s where we turn into comedy. The movie has a couple of bits that it establishes and they work, in particular “Heavy Metal” Jeff and his constant rebuts of “It’s hardcore, not metal!” Most of the laughs come from the naivety of sheltered teens and in turn their struggles against a literal sex demon. Sex jokes are aplenty here but don’t feel raunchy, instead smoothly in theme with the movie. Same with the gore. It’s a splatstick approach to things and it works.

Director Keola Racela does a great job at working with such a small space and making it feel big. Stuck to the confines of the theater (with only one real exterior shot,) the movie feels claustrophobic in all the necessary ways but never feels small. Racela crafts a lot of interesting shots and alongside cinematographer John Wakayama Carey faithfully shifts tones in scenes of horror, playing around with Italian stylings of reds and yellows. When we are dealing with the teen romp aspect of the film, shots are wide and bright but when danger looms, the camera tightens up and the scenes created that smaller space to get scared in. Our cast is relatively new, with Killian Mueller as Chaz really standing out as our lead. Mueller has a big responsibility, carrying the main message of the film through her arc, but she does so with a bold confidence by the end of the movie.

If Porno is really lacking anywhere, it feels a bit long. It panders around a bit with wandering through the theater and bouncing back and forth unnecessarily between our characters. Some of the jokes fall flat but really, it’s done with an earnest approach that feels real within the group of teens we’re following. A lot of positive messages are hidden amongst the nudity and gore, such as self love and acceptance, and Racela is never ham fisted with his intent. Porno is ultimately a delightful midnight movie that will have you laughing and squirming in your seat.