Among Friends is a delicious little concoction of a slasher/thriller. Written, directed, and produced by women (Alyssa Lobit, Danielle Harris of Halloween fame, and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, respectively), with a lesbian character at the center of a group of messed-up friends who attend an ill-fated dinner party, it’s taught, tense, and very fun.
The premise is simple, and attended to quickly. Psychiatrist Bernadette (writer Alyssa Lobit, flexing serious creative muscle) has invited her vapid band of friends over to an 1980s-prom themed dinner party, where she’s planned all sorts of fun and games for the group. Unfortunately for everyone but her, those games include mutilation, humiliation, and a whole slew of secretly videotaped footage, under the guise of making everyone tell their dirty secrets. That’s what friends are for, after all. At first, everyone is buddy-buddy, but as the secrets start to come out, and the blood starts to flow in earnest, the gloves come off.
The cast is up to the task. We have the usual assortment of vain twenty/thirty-somethings – too cool for school Marcus (Christopher Backus), recently sober (but not really) Adam (AJ Bowen), who is channeling a chilled-out Zach Galifianakis, self-centered Melanie (producer Jennifer Blanc-Biehn), pretty, long-suffering Sara (Kamala Jones), the none-too-bright Blane (Chris Meyer) and sexy, drugged-up Jules (Brianne Davis), an out lesbian with a penchant for getting her female friends to sleep with her. Mysteriously missing at the beginning of the film is the diminutive Lily (Dana Daury), and only Bernadette seems to know what’s going on with her.
Davis is awesome as our glam-tastic lesbian drug queen. She’s sexy and sweet, and she does get a love scene with another lady (in fact, it’s the only real love scene in the movie, though there’s certainly a creepy element to it). She’s also hilarious – hopped up on mushrooms, coke and angel dust all at once, Jules is the best character in the movie, next to our deranged master of ceremonies.
While some might not dig Among Friends’ dark humor (and dark themes – there’s plenty of violence, and yes, strong allusions to rape), there’s no denying its prowess as a tightly produced exercise in tension. Less a pure horror film and more a thriller with significant gore, the violence is used wisely to ratchet the tension ever higher. The stakes feel appropriately high throughout, and Lobit effectively holds the picture together, terrorizing her dinner guests with serious relish.
Perhaps even more amazing, the film was shot in 10 days, and it looks (and sounds) fantastic. Since it’s set in the present day, but with the ’80s caveat (allowing cell phones and easy video access to be a part of the plot), Harris was able to mash up genre tropes with a distinct, kinetic visual style. The outfits are a pastel-hued hoot, the cinematography is colorful (especially when the blood flows freely) and the editing keeps things moving.
I was able to catch a screening at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco, and both Lobit and producer Blanc-Biehn were on hand to recount the insane production schedule. It’s a feat – and a real credit to the cast and crew – that the picture came out beautifully even under those constraints. Better, one gets the sense, that these women were really having fun while making it — a feature that sadly goes missing from a great deal of lower-budget horror.
There’s a definite “revenge fantasy” vibe to the plot, and a twisted, infectious sense of humor that pervades the entire production. Among Friends is a gruesome, disgustingly funny send-up of the genre, well worth checking out for fans of all things bloody and manic.