That's A Wrap

That’s A Wrap (2023)

 That’s A Wrap had its international première on Fri 25 Aug at FrightFest

Marcel Walz’s That’s A Wrap begins, as it indeed it ends, with an actress sat in a dressing room before a mirror. In the opening scene, Alexis (Cerina Vincent) puts on makeup, with the poster for her latest film – also entitled That’s A Wrap – reflected, along with her face, in the looking glass, so that both its (reversed) letters and the film’s long-haired and masked killer Mistress, can be seen looming behind her. The film has indeed just wrapped, although Alexis is not planning to attend its wrap party, because, as she explains on a video call to her manager (a cameo from SFX genius Tom Savini), she was ‘“only in the opening of the movie”. Sure enough life is about to imitate art, as Alexis will again be killed off in the opening scene of Walz’s movie by someone dressed in Mistress’s mask and costume.

That mirror is key to a film which is not only a reflexive metahorror, constantly commenting, with ironic distance, on its own clichés and tropes, but also a reflection on the female image itself, so changeable over time and so open to exploitation and abuse in genre cinema. For the rest of That’s A Wrap takes place at the wrap party in a private studio space still decorated with the sets from the film just shot. As voyeuristic, womanising director Mason Maestro (Robert Donavan), whose very name encodes his megalomania, watches his cast drinking, gossiping and coupling up, someone else is also watching – someone dressed as Mistress who is eager to recreate the killing spree from the film. 

Of course Molly (Eve Marlowe), who talks of her comfort doing a nude scene in Mason’s film, will go full frontal during the wrap party in a shower sequence that overtly, if also more explicitly, mimics Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Of course Amber (Gigi Gustin), so open about her willingness to blow a filmmaker for a part, will go deep throat once again. Of course naïve virgin Lana (Sarah Polednak) will, as one of her fellow actors predicts, finally get ‘nailed’ at the party. And of course their male counterparts – sexist Jamie (Adam Bucci), gay Troy (Brandon Patricio), stoner Stoney (Steve J. Owens) and crushing Carter (Ben Kaplan) – will play out their final scenes in manners more or less appropriate to their one-note characterisation. They are all the kinds of disposable youth found in any slasher.

These young ones’ antics are soberly, and somewhat disapprovingly observed by the more experienced Harper, who plays the film-within-a-film’s final girl Gretchen (and who is herself played by Walz’s regular final girl Sarah French) and by the much older scream queen Lily (Monique Parent), who everyone knows is still acting only because she is married to Mason. Mason observes too, pursuing his ‘vision’ of young female flesh beyond the confines of his own film making – while the even older producer (Frédéric von Anhalt), who had been promised “artistic drama”, angrily dismisses the film he has just financed as “horror bullshit.” 

In fact It’s A Wrap is a bit of both. For while it is at heart a basic slasher, with a silent masked killer, nubile victims and a bodycount, it looks back, as Mason himself does, to the more artful stylisations and colour-codings of a giallo – even if Carter mishears Lana’s use of this genre term as the dessert ‘jello’. Make no mistake, this is a beautifully lit film, with every set and player bathed in unnatural hues to amplify the artifice of a highly staged mimetic massacre. What is more, in combining the postmodernism of his similarly Hollywood-set Blind (2019) and the retrospective, revisionist sensibilities of his remake Blood Feast (2016), Walz, working once again with screenwriter Joe Knetter (as well as Robert L. Lucas), has crafted his most sophisticated feature to date: a self-critiquing, self-correcting mirror text that gets to have its cake and eat it too. The icing on that cake is when it goes all Sunset Blvd. (1950), both exemplifying and confronting a long, cross-generational history of cinema’s misogyny in both its representation of female characters and its treatment of actresses – one of whom, by the end and through a glass darkly, is definitely ready for her close-up. 

strap: Marcel Walz’s stylishly giallo-esque metacinematic movie-in-a-movie reflects upon the disposability of women in horror

© Anton Bitel