Fantasia Review: Porno (2019)

After screenings earlier this year at both South by Southwest and the Overlook Film Festival, Keola Racela’s throwback horror comedy Porno had its Canadian premiere last weekend at the Fantasia International Film Festival. While there’s all the exposed skin that you would expect from a film titled “Porno,” Racela never uses it as a crutch, instead allowing the refreshingly funny writing and nauseating practical effects plenty of room to shine.

Set in 1992, Porno takes place at a single-screen movie theatre just after closing on a Friday night. Allowed to stay and watch one movie of their choosing on the big screen, the theatre’s five very Christian employees discover an old film canister tucked away in a previously sealed basement.

Though the straight-edge projectionist, Heavy Metal Jeff (perfectly portrayed by Robbie Tann), shuts down the creepy arthouse skin flick right around the time a naked woman begins bathing in blood, the damage is unfortunately done, and the group of hormonal Bible-thumpers must face off against the seductive succubus they’ve unknowingly unleashed.

Evan Daves, Robbie Tann, Larry Saperstein, Jillian Mueller, and Glenn Stott in Porno (2019)

What really sets Porno apart is that it succeeds in being both an effectively atmospheric horror movie and a laugh-out-loud comedy. While plenty of other productions attempt both—like the wildly over-the-top Ghost Killers vs. Bloody Mary that screened at last month’s Cinepocalypse—they more often than not wind up leaning a bit more toward “silly” than “scary.” Thanks in no small part to the clever and instantly quotable script penned by Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli, Porno absolutely nails that delicate balance.

Something that tends to bug me about horror movies that revolve around youths is that the second they’re faced with danger, they suddenly transform into a private military with meticulously detailed six-stage battle plans, a clearly defined chain of command, and nerves of steel. In Porno, our naive teen heroes are very clearly naive teens first, and the cast manages to capture all that wide-eyed confusion and terror beautifully.

Evan Daves, Jillian Mueller, and Glenn Stott in Porno (2019)

A bit more of a slow burn initially then I expected, there’s a fair amount of atmosphere-building and character development before the succubus (played by Katelyn Pearce) is allowed to get in there and do any real damage. At just about the film’s halfway point, I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, this is like Evil Dead meets Demons if the blood and guts were replaced with boobs and butts!” and then I laughed real heard about it until Heavy Metal Jeff’s testicles were literally fucking exploded, and then I just wanted to be dead.

While the delightfully gory practical effects—like the aforementioned ball brutality—are few and far between, they are incredibly effective when they happen. That testicle sequence in particular is truly one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I sincerely mean that in the best possible way. So many of Porno’s successes come from a production that clearly knows its constraints and only attempts what it can afford.

In addition to the quality of the effects work, the film itself just looks and sounds great. The dark settings are never too dark to see what’s happening, and each location is absolutely bathed in light, from the blue of the main theatre to the green of the abandoned basement and the red of each encounter with the seductive demon.

Jillian Mueller in Porno (2019)

The beautiful, vocal-driven score from composer Carla Patullo is flawless throughout, and the haunting mix of rhythmic breathing and pounding drums serve as a “voice” for the wordless succubus—a perfect companion to Pearce’s on-screen presence.

For his feature-length debut, Racela knocked it out of the park. Porno is an early contender for my favorite screening of this year’s Fantasia Festival, and I’m already looking forward to the next time I can laugh and gasp my way through it—preferably, with a group of unsuspecting friends. Come for the full-frontal nudity and stay for literally everything else.

About Eric Slager 87 Articles
After a casual viewing of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, Eric was instantly and hopelessly hooked on horror, forever doomed to chase the high of seeing Ash slay deadites for the very first time.

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