Here’s one that really surprised me. I hadn’t heard anything about this one until the final screening schedule came out for the 2012 Texas Frightmare Weekend line up. Besides the basic plot, HUFF was described as a modern day retelling of the Three Little Pigs. Hhmmm. Okay. Sounds gimmicky; very gimmicky. Boy was I wrong. HUFF doesn’t rely on the Three Little Pigs as a gimmick, but incorporates the structure of that classic story into its plot. What we end up with is something extremely intense and brutal. The Three Little Pigs actually gave HUFF a richer subtext and a deeper layer in both its meaning and impact.
HUFF is the story of a very dysfunctional family. Lorelei (Elina Madison) is a single mother of three daughters who hooks up with who she thinks is gonna be her Knight in Shining Armor, Huff (Charlie O’Connell). It turns out that Huff is a violent, sociopathic pedophile whose main source of income is drug running and trading. Always sitting around the house waiting for his ‘next big score,’ Lorelei is always working (as a stripper, mind you), and is never around the house. This allows the wolf, Huff, to prey on Lorelei’s daughters, Brixi (Marie Bollinger), Styx (Jenna Stone), and Shay (Elly Stefanko). Using the bible as his cover, Huff puts on the pretense of being pious and god-fearing when in reality god is most likely scared to death of Huff!! Lorelei finally opens her friggin’ eyes when one night she comes home from work to find Brixi huddled up in the foetal position naked and crying. Huff was preying on her younger sister, Shay, and Brixi interrupted and essentially took her place. It’s a chilling and disturbing scene that plays out. This, though, is the event that finally wakes mom up out of her oblivion as she realizes this sexual abuse has been occurring for a long time.
That night as her daughters are sleeping, Lorelei packs them each a backpack and fills it with drug money she stole from Huff and sends them on their way so they at least have the chance at a better life. If you’re rolling your eyes to some of the plot elements, don’t. Remember that HUFF is structured on and plays out like a modern day fairy tale. The next day when Huff finds out his money is gone, this sends him over the edge. Think about this: A man I described above as “a violent, sociopathic pedophile” goes even further over the edge and becomes even more violent and destructive. Things get really bad for our “three little piggies”!!
After dealing with dear old mom, Huff sets off to find his step-daughters and the money. You can tell by the girls’ names which “little piggy” they are. There’s Brixi, Styx, and Shay (‘hay’ with an ‘s’). This is where the story could’ve become very gimmicky, but writer Cort Howell and director Paul Morrell know exactly where they want the story to go and they nicely control the material. The girls’ names reflect both their age and personality. Brixi is the oldest daughter and has endured the majority of the abuse from Huff. Her innocence is gone and she’s erected a hard shell around herself for protection. She already lives in a house of bricks. Styx is the middle daughter who has managed to escape from Huff’s twisted grasp (most likely because she’s dating the son of Huff’s mistress). Styx believes she’s tough and can stand up for herself, but deep down she’s constructed a house made of dried out sticks that can easily be destroyed. The sticks give her a false sense of security thinking they are strong enough to protect her. After Huff “blows down” those sticks, Styx is left facing the cold, hard reality of looking into the face of a wolf. And Shay, the youngest, never thought she needed anything more than hay to protect her. She’s young and innocent and can’t believe there are wolves out there who would want to harm her. Shay never had a chance!!
The power and success of this film rests squarely on the shoulders of Charlie O’Connell. Yeah you read that sentence correctly. Charlie O’Connell goes completely against his typical roles and puts in one of the most brutal, savage, and powerful performances I’ve seen in a long time. No shit!! This is the same happy-go-lucky, eternally nice guy who starred in 2-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (my review) and DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR? !! But after watching him in HUFF you’ll never look at him the same way. O’Connell never lets his character slide into the bat-shit crazy, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head kind of bad guy. Huff is never a caricature of other villains. O’Connell keeps Huff threatening, violent, scary, and brutal the entire film. If anything, he makes Huff more sociopathic by the film’s end than he was in the beginning. He goes from being a wolf to being a monster and O’Connell does a truly amazing job in this role. He pulls it off with 100% success.
The acting from the remaining cast wasn’t as strong as O’Connell’s, but everyone held their own. The cast and director were present at the screening I saw and they stayed for a Q&A afterwards. During the Q&A, Elly Stefanko (Shay) mentioned that this was her first acting role (although she’s been in the music industry for years). This was very apparent. She looked the least comfortable in front of the camera. This isn’t to say she did a bad job, but she clearly wasn’t as experienced as the others. Overall the acting was good, with a few problems here and there. Luckily the story was strong enough to absorb some of the lesser acting moments. This isn’t to say the story was perfect. There were times when Brixi and other characters did some really stupid things that made their situations worse, but these moments were few and far between.
The gore, here, isn’t off the charts either but there’s a lot of very disturbing themes and a lot of violence and intense moments that had me squirming in my seat. O’Connell played Huff with no boundaries; Huff took what he wanted and did whatever he wanted. Whether it’s cutting a bloody path trying to find his money or raping his young step-daughters (very disturbing scenes here), there was nothing redeemable about Huff. I also liked the decision of making Huff asthmatic and when he gets too worked up he needs to suck on his inhaler. Usually in even the most despicable characters you feel a little empathy for their weaknesses. Not with Huff. Every time he pulled out that inhaler I was hoping it was empty. I wanted to see that bastard slowly suffocate to death!!
There was also an odd religious element that ran throughout the film that didn’t make much sense to me. In the opening, pre-credit scene, Huff is relating a rather bloody and violent bible story to his three very young step-daughters. The story included gang rape, dismemberment, and all those other bible-friendly themes. At first it was a rather funny scene due to the age of the girls (they were pre-pubescent at the time) and the horrific nature of the story. But when you looked into O’Connell’s eyes as he told the story, you saw that there was nothing there other than malice, violence, and destruction. If this wasn’t foreshadowing for things to come I don’t know what is!! After this very effective opening scene they filmmakers could’ve abandoned the religious theme and the film wouldn’t have suffered in the least.
Unfortunately I have no news right now about when this film will be getting released. I’m hoping it’ll hit various cable MOD/VOD system’s soon and I’ll definitely let you know when it does (I have from a very reliable source that a distribution deal is coming). HUFF is a ‘don’t miss’ film that achieves a level of intensity rarely attained in genre films. This is career-changer role for Charlie O’Connell and it’ll blow you away. Do not miss HUFF!!
Director: Paul Morrell
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer at the Texas Frightmare Weekend 2012