By Steph Cannon
If you’ve ever had a house guest who quickly wore out their welcome, you know how taxing it can be to rectify the situation. Do you attempt to have a conversation with them regarding their behavior, or just overlook the imposition with the knowledge it’s only temporary? Do you kick them out? It can be enough to drive even the most forgiving of individuals insane, which is precisely the focus of Writer/Director Eric Pennycoff’s horror comedy The Leech.
Devout priest David (Graham Skipper) is completely dedicated to his Parish and his faith, which is made evident upon our first introduction of him during an impassioned sermon. Unfortunately, his flock is meager, but he doesn’t seem to let the dwindling number of attendees get him down. When he discovers the down on his luck Terry (Jeremy Gardner) seeking shelter inside the church, the Priest seizes the opportunity to offer the man aid.
Terry informs David that he’s recently been kicked out by his girlfriend, and, having no other place to go, sought asylum amongst the pews. Though David is quick to inform Terry that the church is no place for him to stay overnight, he quickly takes pity on the hapless stranger and offers for Terry to stay with him.
The hilarity of the obvious differences between the two is spelled out right from the get-go, and is what guides The Leech forward with awkward delight. One of the first things this movie gets right is how easy it is to love both of these characters for who they are. David is clearly trying to do right by his morals and beliefs, despite Terry’s unabashed, clueless, crass behavior. For every carefully recited anecdote given by David for Terry’s troubles, there’s a polarizing, boorish response in return.
Regardless, there’s an instant likeability about Terry. Underneath his vulgarity lies someone who truly is just trying to do the best he can, but keeps failing miserably. Though their first night together is filled with awkward moments and conversations, they both make the most of it, and David continues to make valiant endeavors to guide his disheveled houseguest.
Just when the circumstance seemingly couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, Terry’s estranged girlfriend, Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke) shows up to join the party, and that’s when the train truly comes off the rails. Now responsible for two outrageous guests, David’s sanity, and his faith, will be tested in ways that are both comical and shocking.
The Leech doesn’t earn its horror badge until the final act, and while that may be seen as a shortcoming by some, it works beautifully with the way the story unravels. The first three-quarters of the film are filled with such irreverent, laugh-out-loud scenes, that when the horrific moments begin to take place, you’re there for it because of the outlandishness of what’s already transpired. When it gets dark, it does so quickly, but you’re already so invested in the characters and story that you can’t help but just hop on and enjoy the ride.
The crowning achievement that carries the film above all is the talent of the cast. Skipper portrays David with a precise balance of overly patient doormat and eventual unhinged miscreant, while Gardner manages to channel both Beetlejuice and Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with the tawdry, blase Terry. Just when you think it’s going to be an “odd couple” situation, Zaudtke swoops in with effortless mirthfulness to make this an insane concoction of hilarity and shock factor.
Pennycoff excels at delivering an obscure, character-driven tale with multiple personalities, finding the right blend of top-notch acting, storytelling, and unpredictability. It’s legitimately a movie that has to be experienced to be believed, and it really should be. You’ll be laughing, cringing, and creeped out (sometimes all at once) from start to finish.
'The Leech' is now available to stream on ARROW Player and on all major VOD platforms.