Stars: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer, Max Williamson, Mark Metcalf, Mathew Dunlop | Written and Directed by Drew Rosas, Nick Sommer
I’ve always had a soft spot for slashers with a decent gimmick, so I was delighted when Billy Club‘s penchant for baseball-related violence was revealed. Too many horror movies are content to stick to the humdrum formula of having a nondescript masked killer stalk the nubile teens of Camp Lake Name with no more of a unifying theme than having surfboard impalements be the chief cause of death; not so this film. Here bats, balls, diamonds and even – especially – pitching machines all have a central role to play in the slaughter of Billy Club’s innocent-but-not-quite-so-innocent victims, and the movie is all the more enjoyable for it, despite some ultimately negligible production flaws.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film’s story chiefly takes place fifteen years after a set of grisly murders on a Little League baseball field (which we see in juddering but effective flashback) where we meet Bobby Spooner, a softly-spoken James Dean wannabe who’s reunited with his old baseball buddies Danny and Kyle in self-proclaimed former tomboy Alison’s bar. After catching up and establishing an appropriate level of sexual tension between Alison and Bobby, the gang decide to play some ball and reflect on their dearly departed teammates before inexplicably deciding that heading to their dead coach’s forest cabin and getting loaded is the perfect way to memorialise them.
Oh, and some homeless guy gets brutally murdered by a psychopath in a fetish catcher’s outfit with a spike-ridden baseball bat in the first scene. But that probably won’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie, right?
Wrong! No sooner do our lovable bunch of goofy hicks and the central couple arrive at the aforementioned cabin than the batter arrives to take them all out one by one. There are some grisly moments, certainly, and the villain himself serves exactly the right purpose in looking like someone I’d run a million miles from if we ever crossed paths, but much of Billy Club is firmly entrenched in horror-comedy territory, with one of the death scenes in particular being an abject lesson in farce. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that psychedelics are involved.
All told, there actually isn’t a whole lot of murder to be found in the movie, as Billy Club‘s latter half mainly develops the relationships between the three leads (there’s a somewhat unconventional love triangle between Bobby, Alison and Kyle, of whom the latter two used to date) and, crucially, sheds light on the bullying incident fifteen years ago that connects the past and present murders. The revelations of the story are convincingly put across, with some younger performers in flashback sequences giving even some of the adult actors a run for their money. And while it’s no surprise to discover who’s really behind that catcher’s mask, the climax – ending up at the same diamond where it all began – nicely ties the film together with the ribbon that is an on-the-nose but extremely satisfying victory for the forces of non-psychopathy.
That all sounds simple enough, and I’d be perfectly happy with the movie I’ve just described. However, there were some minor elements that I could have done without, like an almost completely unnecessary subplot involving a police detective and a couple of other red herrings that threatened to lead into interesting territory but ended up adding nothing but running time. But that’s not to say I ever stopped enjoying Billy Club or got bored; I was on board for the whole ride (all 90-ish minutes, the perfect length for a throwaway flick), which is really the best thing you can say about any film, right?
While there were some technical tics that would give me pause in a studio-produced film – on the whole, the cinematography is clear and consistent, but it occasionally tries to be artier than it can pull off; some of the acting comes off as hammy and insincere, but that might just be down to the occasionally tin-eared and expository dialogue – the confidence with which the filmmakers tell 90% of their story on what was clearly not the highest budget shines through and ends up making Billy Club far more than the sum of its parts.
And for a film like this – for any film – that’s a goddamn home run.
[Sorry. I couldn’t resist!]