Directed by Eric Pham.
Starring Elle LaMont, Dalton E. Gray, A. Michael Baldwin, Johnny Walter, Violett Beane, and Jordan LeuVoy.
Following her mother’s death, an estranged daughter struggles to save her brother and others from Flay, an evil Native American spirit that is definitely not the Slender Man.
Where do we begin with Flay? There’s a mountain of flaws, so much that they often hinder the solid moments sprinkled throughout the film. It never feels fun being so negative about a piece, especially when you know the hard work that goes into making a feature film. When it comes to Flay though, there are just too many obvious ways to avoid the mistakes made in the movie that it almost astounds me.
For starters, making a Slender Man movie is something any filmmaker should avoid. Then including elements from other folklore and tropes only adds to the ridiculousness. Let’s not forget the legal speed bump the film had along the way to release. Yes, Flay is a bit infamous in the horror community for its battles with Sony Pictures over the Slender Man gimmick. Sony claimed the film was a rip-off of their take, which the studio believed they had exclusive rights. Following a messy battle, director and producer Eric Pham opted not to release the film until court. Later settled with the final decision being favorable to Pham, the film is now finally seeing the light of day.
Flay follows Moon Crane (Elle LaMont) as she attempts to pick up the pieces of her life after her mother passes away. Not only is she grieving but, there are evil paint and a faceless spirit that’s endangering her and the ones closest to her. Flay’s main story is about Moon dealing with the cursed chains of a Native American killed in the late 1800s. Stolen by her mother, the chains merge into a painting she was working on, and soon she’s killed by a barely glimpsed not-Slender Man figure. Sounds pretty insane right? That doesn’t begin to explain Flay! From the start, nothing feels connected, especially the cold open that features a brief history of America.
When will filmmakers be over the trope of spooky Native Americans? The inclusion of a Native American putting a curse on a group of white men feels cliched decade ago, let alone in a 2019 film. While this new spin instantly sets Flay apart from other retellings of the Slender Man mythos, it also throws the movie into a whole new territory that didn’t need to be touched. Much like the evil Indian burial grounds, sassy gay friends, and the “magic negro” trope, let’s stop adding Native American culture just for cheap thrills.
Every time a weak film like Flay uses these tropes, it hinders the chances for real stories to be told. The entire Native American elements could easily be removed from the film and not change anything. You already have the goofiness of haunted paint and the core elements of the Slender Man story in your story, why include something else to clutter your plot? Less is usually more when it comes to crafting a low-budget horror film, something the creators of Flay needed to learn.
Removing any controversy or issues with using an exhausted gimmick, Flay still doesn’t quite work. The biggest problem that stands out is how the film feels weakest on the technical side of things. With director Eric Pham working as a Visual Effects Supervisor on some of Robert Rodriguez’s films, you’d expect some fun VFX moments. Even if the effects are cheesy, like the Thumb Thumbs in Spy Kids or anything in a Machete movie, it’s still something to work with, but sadly Flay lacks any of that charm. The visual effects for the creature and jump scares came off laughable instead of scary. Pham shows massive potential for crafting scares and building a level of dread. For all the film’s faults, there are times where genuine tension comes through, and you lose yourself in the moment. But then you see a goofy looking paint swirl, or the camera pans to an unneeded CGI jump scare, and it completely defeats the moment.
Speaking of Robert Rodriguez, there’s a magic to his films that make even the cheesiest of moments work. That magic is usually found in his actors as they believe in the wacky material. In Flay though, the actors aren’t selling the utter insanity of the film. Trying to figure out your character motivations or any arc is probably hard when trying to navigate a story about paint, spooky spirits, and a Native American curse is undoubtedly tough. We must give major props to lead actress Elle LaMont for giving it her all though; she was a constant throughout the ups and many downs of the film.
While Flay isn’t as dull as watching paint dry – which you see a lot of in this movie – the film misses the mark. A few good scares can’t make up for plenty of weaker moments, and that’s sadly the case here. If there’s anything to take away from Flay, let’s retire Slender Man forever and leave him on the Internet. And while we are at it, don’t include a sub-plot about the persecution and genocide of the American Indians if you are doing nothing with the touchy material.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★