I'm going to preface this up front. Horror actress Devanny Pinn's directorial debut, The Black Mass, is not an easy watch, especially its last act. When it gets to the violence and the slaughter of innocent sorority women, its' unrelenting and visceral. Yet, her film stands out because the sound design and POV shots make it much, much different than the plethora of true crime content out there. As tough as this film's last 30 minutes are to absorb, it's a feature difficult to forget.
With a script by Eric Pereira, Brandon Slagle and Pinn, the film follows a 24-hour period in the life of Ted (Andrew Sykes). It's the winter of 1978 in Florida and he stalks a number of sorority sisters. What's so unsettling about this film is that you often see everything from Ted's POV, including every one of his chilling encounters with these women and also their dismay and alarm in how he interacts with them. He's all kinds of creepy. In some sequences, you hear his breathing but don't fully see him center frame. It feels like Jason or Michael Myers is hunting these women. Other times, you do see his interactions in full frame, and they're just as hair-raising.
Frequently, Ted lies and says that he's a college student and belongs on campus. Yet, most of the women don't believe it. There's just something off about him, be it his demeanor or his attempts to act like he has no idea where he's going and just needs help finding a certain building on campus. Still, even if most of the characters don't believe Ted's various stories, that doesn't stop him from creeping closer and closer to the sororiety house. There's even one scene in which he watches one of the women shower and then fantasizes about horrific violence done to her. This scene in particular veers into some real grindhouse territory.
Other than the disturbing POV shots, this movie does a lot with sound to keep a viewer on edge, and not only Ted's breathing. There's plenty of other sequences with discordant noises to constantly make everything feel off. Meanwhile, when the film hits its last act, the brutality is non-stop, and yes, it's not for anyone with a weak stomach. It's clear from the get-go Ted will kill, and when he does, it's one victim after the other. Some of the sequences feel especially prolonged and Pinn doesn't hold back. She also thrusts herslef into the narrative and has a role in the film. Horror fans will also recognize Lisa Wilcox of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5 fame.
The big reveal likely won't surprise most viewers, especially true crime fans, if you consider the time period and story, and though, on the one hand this film certainly tries to give voice to the victims, I do wish we spent more time actually getting to know these women. That said, Pinn has one heck of a debut here. The Black Mass is suspenseful, at times brutal, and hauntingly effective.
The Black Mass will play limited theaters starting on February 23 before hitting VOD on February 27.