At a cabin in the mountains, six old friends get together to talk about the old times and drink a lot of shots as they do.
But there’s a nut in a mask. With a knife. And a hammer. And a noose. And a machete. And gasoline. And a grudge.
“The 6th Friend” is a slow — VERY slow — “pick them off, one by one” thriller with the trappings, anyway, of a feminist twist.
THIS time the victimized women are empowered. THIS time women wrote the nut-with-a-knife story. THIS time a woman directs it.
But this make-work project for some under-utilized LA actresses lacks the characters, dialogue and plotting to come off. Sure, there are mildly-inventive ways for offing the various characters. It’s just that by the time the picture gets down to business, it lacks the nerve to go all in.
In slasher pictures, there’s no mincing around the arterial spray.
And with that many characters, taking your sweet time, rarely getting a hint of urgency in the proceedings for those who have survived the latest attack, never getting the proper shock and slack-jawed terror out of your actresses, is a fatal failing.
“The 6th Friend” begins with a party that gets out of hand. Joey, Melissa, Sahara, Heather, Becca and Katie are well into their tequila shots and “Wooooooooos” when a dealer shows up to add a little acid to the proceedings.
That dealer, Tyler (David Villada) has tattoos and a scowl that make Joey (Jamie Bernadette, who co-wrote the script) paranoid, even without acid. The fact that he likes to party with a skull mask doubles the fear factor.
Something happens, there’s a lot of blood and the cops question everybody.
Five years later, Joey is still haunted by that night. But actress and BFF Melissa (Chantelle Albers) “kidnaps” her for a weekend getaway. Turns out, it’s a reunion. The others, women who are more or less “moving on” with their lives, want Joey to get with the program and get over it, too.
Joey freaks out a bit. And as the alcohol pours and the wild rumpus never quite starts, an ugly fact comes out. Virtually all of them have “seen” Tyler lately — in the mask, watching them. And that just cannot be.
As the flashbacks tip us as to what happened, the women share their fears and contribute little slivers of back-story to “that night,” even as their situation — out there, in the woods, with someone, someTHING, stalking them — worsens and suspense rises.
Only it doesn’t.
Veteran TV Lifetime/Hallmark director (” A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale”) Letia Clouston, who co-wrote the script, has no real feel for horror, what builds suspense or delivers thrills. Co-writer Bernadette concentrated on the “write myself a star vehicle” aspects without getting a handle on the genre or the form either.
We’ve got a horror tale with under-digested digs at reality TV, the broad definition of “celebrity” and the sorts of people who crave it, grafted on.
When loud and boisterous “H-Bomb” Heather (veteran character actress Dominique Swain) is leading them all on a half-running escape from “Camp Rape My Face” to the vehicles parked outside — “Let’s take my car. It’s more expensive!” — the funny line dies of loneliness.
Sahara (New Zealander Tania Nolan) is the lone character to achieve gasping, wide-eyed terror.
When Becca (Monique Rosario) turns out to be gay, she simply must be a lesbian badass cliche.
And those are the players who register.
Hiding “what happened” from the viewer is a futile gesture, as we figure it out quite quickly. And any supernatural suggestion of the nature of the menace is left to wither as well.
Long before the dawdling-between-murder-attempt scenes, this movie wastes half its screen time with chatter that inadequately suggests “bonding” (discussing license to call someone “bitches,” a tedious “Good night” shout-a-thon from bedroom to bedroom).
Still, the opening tequila and acid blast works and a couple of the struggles with the masked killer are heart-pounding. Joey hurls herself into saving others, holding up a friend being hung even as the killer is dousing them both with gasoline. She won’t run away and leave her to die.
Oddly, the masked murderer keeps giving her time to do this.
I’ve never considered horror my genre, but I see a lot of it and a few decades of reviewing have shown me what works and how. “The 6th Friend” — even the title is half-baked — has some cool effects (the LSD scenes, the bloody makeup) and a promising set-up — #MeToo moment that went wrong, went too far, with a piper who must be paid.
But with pretty much everybody involved more interested in the flippant elements of the story, there’s nobody to provide the fear and nobody adequately responding to it. It’s a horror picture that can’t quite find the laughs it is going for and never, for more than a more or two, provides frights.
MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence
Cast: Jamie Bernadette, Chantelle Albers, Dominique Swain, Jessica Morris, Tania Nola, Monique Rosario
Credits: Directed by Letia Clouston, script by Jamie Bernadette and Letia Cloutston. An Asylum release.
Running time: 1:25