Sadistic Intentions (2018)

The title of Eric Pennycoff’s feature debut plays a crucial role in the dynamic of the narrative to come. The word ‘intentions’, after all, points towards plans for the future, and the word ‘sadistic’ tells us that these plans will be callous and cruel. So even though a good two thirds of the film are devoted to Stu (Jeremy Gardner) and Chloe (Taylor Zaudtke), who have never met before, just hanging out together at night in an isolated mansion while they wait for Kevin (Michael Patrick Nicholson) – the former’s bandmate, the latter’s drug dealer – to arrive, we know that something nasty is on the horizon. So these getting-to-know-you scenes, which would otherwise not be out of place in an indie drama or even a romantic comedy, are filled with a real, palpable tension by our expectation of coming malevolence, as we wonder just how the film is going eventually to deliver on its title. It helps that the film’s opening scene made it clear that Kevin has already murdered at least one person with a hammer on the house’s grounds. It also helps that we know what the two strangers in the house have not yet realised: that they are not in fact alone.

Chloe and Stu are obviously mismatched. She is relaxed, he is tightly wound. She is talkative, he is taciturn. She is sunny, he is dark. She listens, he does not. All the nuances of this awkward coupling are perfectly traced by both Zaudtke and Gardner. In another film, they would inevitably overcome their differences and end up together – here, we are never sure that either of them will last that long. They also, with a certain irony given our awareness of impending horror, gradually warm to each other enough to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future. Stu wishes the metal music he creates with Kevin to be “pushing the boundaries of the genre” rather than just “adding to the noise”, and to become “something new, something different, something dangerous.” Chloe wants to go out into the world “and be a part of something huge”. She also wants to study oceanography. Meanwhile, here they are, stuck waiting together in this opulent suburban fishbowl, more visible than they realise. And then Kevin turns up, three prove a crowd, and everything goes to hell, as the sadistic intentions of the title become apparent.

Like Stu, Pennycoff also wants to push genre’s boundaries, and when his film shifts violently into thriller and horror territories, all the contrasts of character that have been so carefully explored in the earlier act will play out and pay off unexpectedly in the end. For in this story of artistic frustration, edgy fantasy and impossible desire, a triangular scenario will unfold from which all the characters get way past the point of being able simply to extract themselves – and the most dysfunctional and unpleasant aspects of the creative process are fully examined.

It is as though we have all just been waiting for Pennycoff to arrive – and with Sadistic Intentions, here he is, fully formed.

© Anton Bitel